Investigation in death of Ecuador's defense minister

Ecuador Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva was one of Ecuador’s outstanding women leaders. She was killed along with her daughter and five others after two Ecuadorian military helicopters collided late Wednesday near an air base on the Pacific coast.

Guadalupe Larriva, Rest in Peace

The helicopter was loaded with explosives, and strangely, the Ecuadorian General in charge agreed to allow these VIP’s to board the helicopter. It was Army day and they were celebrating with military games using guns, explosives and attacks. This was not a passenger helicopter.

The General in charge will not say which helecopter her daughter was in, and they "don't know" who invited them to ride this aircraft. Everyone now can see huge "security" lapses. One Ecuadorian leader told me: "All those around Guadalupe Larriva were there to protect her, she was in their hands, and they did not. How are the military men going to clear up all the doubts?".

The Ecuadorian people are very suspicious of foul play. Defense Minister Larriva had just made a speech a few hours before, suggesting that she would be investigating military spending. She also indicated a desire to have U.S. military operations move out of Ecuador.

The pilot of the helicopter had a medical problem and was not rated to fly that night. But a military officer told him that he should make this flight. The flight plan was filed to take the helicopter to the US base nearby.

Then when the crash occurred U.S. soldiers appeared on the site and didn’t allow any Ecuadorian civil authorities to the site of the crash. They took the helicopter to “reassemble the crash”.

Also it is strange that no military officer called President Correa to inform him of the tragedy. A young new recruit who had just been in the army a few days, called Ecuador’s President Correa, to inform him. In fact the Ecuadorian military has withheld information on this. There were some high up in Ecuador's military, who did not like the idea of serving "under" a woman Defense Minister such as Larriva.

Funeral with National Honors

U.S. authorities have withheld any information. It is not known if the USA is conducting an investigation on this or not. Many Ecuadorians believe that the USA may have engineered this crash to eliminate a political enemy. Guadalupe Larriva had been critical of the USA in the past.

Her background and history was remarkable. By all reports of those who knew her, she was an outstanding person. She taught for 25 years, and year after year, students lives were changed by her. She was a steadfast advocate of woman's rights, always working, even demonstrating in the streets.

She was elected four years ago to the congress, and was considered one of Ecuador's best. She was honest, and would not be corrupted. That in itself may have made some fear her. In the most recent elections for congress, she again won, but the corrupt voting machine of Ecuador did not give her the position she won, although the people all knew that she was the true winner. She was a mother, and a brilliant woman, interested in human rights.

She had advanced rapidly through Ecuador’s society and was known to be devoted and committed to elimination of corruption and inequities of power and wealth. Her first husband died several years ago, but happily she was engaged to be married again, in a few months.

She adored her 17 year old daughter who also died in the crash. Guadalupe Larriva, a widow for eight years and mother of three children, was a university professor of history and geography. At the time of her nomination as defense minister, she was president of the Socialist Party-Broad Front, in which she had been a member for 19 years.

She also had been a deputy for the southern province of Azuay, member of the Commission on Human Rights, Justice and Prison Policy of the Latin American Parliament, and president of the Parliamentarian Forum.

Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador said: "I don't understand. I am confused". Correa travelled to the scene and confirmed the deaths near the air base at the port city of Manta, 275 kilometers (170 miles) southwest of Quito. "I only ask the Ecuadorian public to pray for the soul of Guadalupe and the other victims," Correa then called for an intense investigation and probe of the event. He said: "While it appears to be an accident, a full investigation should be made."

The problem in Ecuador, as with much of Latin America, is that several of their leaders have been killed in "accidents" while pursuing political agendas. In some cases, American intervention has been cited.

The entire nation of Ecuador is looking for answers. While the military is saying that this was an accident, when one helicopter flew into the other, questions remain why they would use a pilot on medical leave, or a helicopter filled with explosives. The United States should take an aggressive lead and do a through independent investigation with full disclosure of all facts.

This terrible event was either an accident, or a terrible crime. If an accident, those responsible should be punished. If a crime, the criminals should be punished more. The truth and the justice should come out on this, otherwise, in the minds of many Ecuadorian people, the USA may be considered the culprit of another assassination, even though the problem was probably the work of incompetent or corrupt Ecuadorians.

The defense minister and her daughter were not the only ones to die. "Five officials of the Ecuadorian Army were killed in the incident," Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea announced.

According to the official report, the crash happened as the two helicopters, carrying Larriva, 50, and her 17-year-old daughter, were conducting a night military exercise near the Manta air base.

"There are no survivors," Larrea said.

This is also inconsistent. There were no survivors in Defense minister Larriva's helicopter. In the other helicopter, only the pilots were injured.

The accident occurred around 9:00 pm Wednesday (0200 GMT Thursday), and local media reports said the helicopters crashed in mid-air. The Manta fire chief told AFP that the rescue team so far had recovered the bodies of two men and a young woman.

Larriva, was from Cuenca. She took office with Correa on January 15, becoming the first woman to serve as her country's defence minister. There were rumers that some in the established military hierarchy did not like the idea of a "woman" being their boss.

She openly opposed the presence of US troops in Ecuador. The United States uses Manta as its main outpost in its fight against drug trafficking in the Pacific region. While drug's are not a major problem in Ecuador, they are in neighboring countries such as Columbia. President Correa himself had pledged not to renew the US military presence at the Manta air base in 2009.

Aaron Sherinian, spokesman for the US embassy in Quito, said that US teams were working with Ecuadorian authorities to try to find out how the crash occurred. In Quito, the vice president of Larriva's Socialist Party-Broad Front political party, Gustavo Ayala, expressed doubts about the cause of the accident and demanded that his party be included in any investigation.

"We have come to the defense ministry to form the investigating commission," said Ayala, accompanied by several other party leaders.

Ecuadorian human rights activists demanded that any investigation include independent experts in addition to the military. "It is necessary to identify the causes of the accident," said Alexis Ponce of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights.

On Tuesday Larriva had reviewed troops stationed on the troubled border region with Colombia. She said Wednesday she would ask her Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, in a meeting next week to step up border surveillance.

A few hours before her death she said: "While we have 13 outposts on the frontier, Colombia has three. Therefore we want protection to be reinforced," She later indicated that she would be reviewing the budget of the military "carefully".

This interview with the T.V. network, Teleamazonas, was her last interview.

She was an outstanding, warm, intelligent and committed person. Her death is a loss to the world. Many who loved her deeply feel the pain of her departure. We honor her memory as a great person.