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Ecuadoran journalists who put their lives on the line for a story

April 13, 2018

The three members of an Ecuadoran journalist team who died in captivity after being abducted by a Colombian rebel group were following a story on violence that ended up costing their lives.

Javier Ortega, a 32-year-old reporter, photographer Paul Rivas, 45, and their 60-year-old driver Efrain Segarra were kidnapped on March 26 by rogue forces affiliated with Colombia’s recently-disbanded FARC rebels.

Their deaths in captivity has shocked Ecuador, which has long suffered from the effects of the conflict in neighboring Colombia, where violence still persists despite a landmark peace deal with the FARC, once Latin America’s most powerful rebel group.

So who were they?

– Ortega, a love of journalism –

Javier Ortega, 32, spent his teenage years in Spain, where he worked at an ice cream parlor in Valencia, after which he returned to Ecuador to study journalism.

The youngest of three brothers, he was single, with his family describing him as having a calm temperament and his friends recalling his contagious smile.

He worked for El Comercio for the past six years, covering security issues and the courts.

Among the bigger stories he covered was the 2016 earthquake that devastated Ecuador’s coastline and the crash of a military plane the same year, the deportation of Cubans from Quito and the problem of Ecuador’s “disappeared.”

In addition to journalism, his other passion was football after becoming a firm fan of Barca while living in Spain. And despite the pressure of his job, he would leave the office every Wednesday to play himself.

“He loved journalism, and he loved reading and cinema,” said Maria Jose Vela, a friend who studied with him at Ortega University.

– Rivas, a prize-winning photographer –

Paul Rivas, who would have turned 46 on April 25, had a girlfriend and was father to a 15-year-old girl.

An avid collector of old cameras, he left a career in PR for a job “drawing with light.”

Described by his family as a sensitive man but also a joker, he inherited his love of images from his father, publishing a book of their prints. His daughter has also shown a passion for photography.

A photo essay of the families of Ecuador’s “disappeared” won him the Eugenio Espejo prize awarded by Quito’s National Union of Journalists.

And twice Rivas received the Jorge Mantilla Ortega prize, which is awarded by El Comercio, the newspaper where he worked for 20 years.

Whenever he was working, Rivas would “turn his baseball cap around, he was a photographer who was always ready for the action,” said Maria Elena Vaca, who worked with him at the paper for six years.

“He would never say no.”

– Segarra, an adventurous driver –

Known to El Comercio journalists as “Segarita,” Efrain Segarra was a 60-year-old father of two with an adventurous nature.

In his 16 years working with the paper, he became a big fan of photography, snapping selfies of himself on his mobile in every city he visited, his family said.

And having a son who was a journalist on the Quito morning paper was “his pride,” said Vaca, who described him as “a careful driver with a big smile.”

Before joining the paper, Segarra worked as a driver at a government ministry and also drove armored vehicles for a bank.

Like his colleagues, he was a huge football fan who had a collection of shirts from his favorite team, Deportivo Quito.

And working closely with the reporters meant he was even able to get snapshots of himself with some of the players.

He also had a passionate love of animals, on one occasion housing up to 12 abandoned dogs in his home, and later going on to adopt two cats and another dog.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.