Letter to the Editor: Ecuador Ambassador Responds

A massacre in Educador
A massacre, a twice-kidnapped girl and Big Oil star in a messy drama rattling. Ecuador Dolores Ochoa/AP

Earlier this month, Newsweek published a story on a tribal dispute in Ecuador. What follows is a letter to the editor from Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s ambassador in the United States, and a response from the story’s reporter, Bethany Horne.

Dear Editor,

Your article on conflicts between indigenous groups in Ecuador ("After All the People We Killed, We Felt Dizzy") contains a number of grossly misleading and inaccurate statements, and it is clear that the author--who you fail to mention is an anti-government activist within Ecuador, hardly an independent judge- has a predetermined agenda that tarnishes the credibility of the piece.

One only has to look at the manipulative photo of a bloodied woman and baby that leads the article to see this attempt to shock and outrage readers at the expense of the truth. In reality, that image was completely staged, taken at a free assembly of citizens in Quito (the Presidential office is visible just behind her).

Contrary to your article, a government investigation into reports of tribal violence was commenced immediately. The alleged incident took place in an isolated section of the Amazon on March 29, 2013,and on April 3, the Ministry of Justice launched an investigation. Approximately one week later, the Ministry instructed the Public Prosecutor's office, which is independent of the Executive office, to investigate. While the President too was frustrated at the pace of the investigation, given the remote location of the incident, no tangible evidence has been found aside from the two girls and an unattributed photograph, which has slowed the process.

Yet once the Public Prosecutor's office did take decisive action, your article again goes to great lengths to further its author's agenda-- repeatedly referring to the rescue of two children from their kidnappers who allegedly murdered their family as "kidnapping" by the government. How anyone can call this kidnapping is unfathomable.

The truth is that the President has publicly called for swift and strong action against any responsible parties involved in the case. Like any country, however, the rule of law must be respected. In the meantime, as we await a final outcome, the citizens of Ecuador, our indigenous people, and the robust local media are actively engaged in free and open debate as in any healthy society. It is a shame your publication seems determined to distort the facts to hide these truths.

Sincerely,

Nathalie Cely

Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States

***

Ms. Cely,

In order to get the ad hominem out of the way as soon as possible, I have solicited comment from BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray on whether I am an anything resembling an anti-government activist. I do not like BuzzFeed one bit, and have only ever been prickly towards Rosie, so she was thrilled at the opportunity to say something blunt about me:

"I've been familiar with Bethany's work for a while now, and until a few months ago she appeared to mostly just accept the Correa line on issues in Ecuador ... It seems inaccurate to describe her as an 'anti-government' activist, since up until recently she worked enthusiastically for a government-funded research project and a government newspaper."

As my interest in telling the story of the Taromenane is, in fact, not about me at all, let's focus on addressing the apparent misapprehensions about the investigations of the murders in the jungle. That the ambassador still refers to the mass killings as an “alleged incident” is consistent with the government’s approach.

After the murder of the Huaorani couple on March 5, 25 days would pass before the Huaorani carried out their revenge. During those three weeks, there was a wealth of warning signs that more violence was brewing, and nothing was done to address them. After the Huaorani eventually came home bragging about their bloody revenge, the Justice Minister may well have announced an investigation into the massacre, but as it took any investigators nine months to reach the site of the killings, how much importance could that investigation have been given? Certainly nothing resembling the seriousness of the issue, or approaching Ecuador's international treaty responsibilities to establish strong precautionary measures for these vulnerable people.

The ambassador's assessment of the evidence that exists for the massacre is faulty: yes, there is one photo of a dead woman and baby. There are also bullet holes in pots left behind at the site of the massacre, and spent shell casings. There is the eyewitness account of Conta, the survivor. There is even extensive confessional testimony of the men who participated in the killing.

This testimony is collected in the censored book, mentioned in the original Newsweek article. No one from any Ecuadorian state institution has ever been able to challenge the substance of what is in that book (although, in the same vein as your opening paragraph, there have been enough attempts to shoot the messengers). To summarize: There is physical evidence, an eyewitness, a photograph of the bodies, and several confessions. Can we please stop calling it an alleged incident?

What's most serious is that today, 10 months after the massacre, the government has still taken no substantive action to protect the Taromenane tribe. Although you refer to Conta's extraction from her kindergarten via military helicopter as a “rescue,” this language contradicts not only common sense but also the assessment of Jose Tonello, appointed by the president to investigate the massacre, who has called Conta's extraction an “act of violence” and a new trauma, just as serious as having seen her parents killed before her eyes.

To finish: I maintain my hope that the powerful mechanisms of the Ecuadorian state that have mobilized so effectively to attack me and my work will reinvest their energies instead in fulfilling their duties to the Taromenane people, despite the inconvenience of having them living on an oil-rich chunk of Amazon jungle.

Bethany Horne

 
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