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Cronicas (2004) tells the story of a journalist, Manolo, covering the mysterious murders done by the infamous Monster of Babahoyo. When a bible salesman, Vinicio, accidentally hits a child with his car, the residents attack him and jail him. In an effort to get out of jail, Vinicio tells Manolo he knows who the killer is. But after continued interviews, Manolo begins to suspect Vinicio. Though his efforts to convict him are impeded by the incompetence of the network, and Vinicio is freed.
The 1999 Financial Crisis
Ecuador enjoyed a thriving economy in the 1970s, but oil prices stagnated in the 80s as the continent entered the lost decade. Continued border disputes and conflicts with Peru exacerbated their position and by the mid-90s, Ecuador entered a period of increased political instability. Abdala Bucaram was elected president in 1996 and proposed to establish a currency board similar to one in Argentina but was booted from office after being declared mentally unfit by Congress in 1997 and his project was abandoned. Between 1997 and 1998, Ecuador was affected by the El Niño weather phenomenon which destroyed a significant portion of the country’s infrastructure and affected the agricultural sector. In 1998, a new constitution was enacted granting the central bank technical and administrative autonomy from the government.
The changes made only grew the GDP by .4% but the inflation rate rose by 43% making it the worst financial crisis in the country’s history. To avoid a financial meltdown, the central bank was forced to act as a lender of last resort. By early 1999, major banks were failing and being taken over and closed. In March 1999, the government declared a national bank holiday, which ended up lasting a full week from March 8–12. At the end of the holiday, the government announced a widespread deposit freeze. This did temporarily slow inflation, but it caused the collapse of trust in the banking system and poor economic conditions. The Ecuadorian currency depreciated in value and the US dollar’s use increased more and more. Politically, this crisis resulted in a lot of restructuring. The current president Jamil Mahuad was deposed in a coup and replaced by his vice president Gustavo Noboa. A level of political stability would only be reached with the election of President Rafael Correa in 2006.
The Monster of the Andes
The Monster of Babahoyo is based on one of the most terrifying serial killers of the region, Pedro Lopez known as the Monster of the Andes. Born in Colombia in 1948, his father was a member of the country’s right-wing party who was killed in La Violencia and his mother was physically abusive. He eventually left and lived on the streets where he joined a gang and was regularly abused. Lopez started to seek out young girls, usually of Indigenous background and limited economic means. He made his way to Peru where he continued to kill young girls in the late 70s. He was eventually caught by the Ayachucos community who tried to bury him alive but were stopped by Western missionaries who turned him over to the Peruvian police who merely deported him to Colombia. He subsequently made his way to Ecuador.
Lopez said, “I like the girls in Ecuador; they are more gentle and trusting. More innocent.” He was finally caught in 1980 when a detective went undercover as an inmate and got him to confess to everything. Police ultimately unearthed 57 bodies. Coupled with his confessions, Lopez was charged with 110 murders. He claimed to have been responsible for around 200 more deaths in the neighboring countries of Peru and Colombia. He was sentenced to 16 years since that was the maximum sentence in Ecuador. In 1994, he was released two years early on good behavior. He was deported to Colombia and vanished in 1998. Concerns have risen to a possible connection to a 2002 murder but his whereabouts remain unknown.
Attacks on the US Media
The fact that Manolo’s interview segments are part of a show called “Una Hora con la Verdad” (An Hour with the Truth) is extremely ironic. This Miami-based news organization views the truth and what’s right as secondary to a great story. Their main priority in covering Latin America is showing the horror stories of the continent. They only focus on murders and protests, basically everything that goes wrong in the continent. That is why when Manolo and his team are watching Vinicio’s lynching at the beginning of the movie, they do nothing but film. The cameraman tries to stop the crowd from pouring gasoline on Vinicio and Manolo stops him. They only intervene when Manolo gets a chance to be a hero on camera. They put ratings above human life. On the flip side, US media is also plagued by fatal incompetence. Manolo and his team prepare a sympathetic story on Vinicio but after seeing his dark side they request that the network not air it. This request falls on deaf ears, and it is aired and plays a major part in his release. This catastrophic effort leads to Manolo’s promotion. It is clear that the US media does not care about the truth of reporting in Latin America, they are looking for sensationalism no matter the cost.
Combatting God Complexes
Vinicio appears as a devoted husband and father but holds a secret murderous side. Both of these sides though seem to be driven by his Christian values. A bible salesman, he relishes being a crusader for the word of God and constantly quotes the bible. At one point in the film, he talks to the mother of the boy he hit with his car and says that he is sorry that God used him as the instrument for her son’s death. It comes off as a very strange apology that doesn’t take responsibility for the death. He makes it clear to Manolo later that he has two personalities: one Dr. Jekyll and the other, Mr. Hyde, for whom he cannot be held accountable. That personality must just be God working through him. No one can stop him or it from happening. Though this film focuses on a vicious serial killer, he is not the only character with a destructive god complex. Manolo seems to have the same perverse thirst for power that Vinicio does. After digging up a body that Vinicio tells him about, he comes back to his room where he finds Marisa, the producer on his team. Overcome by the thrill of having found a lead, he has sex with her. Violence and desire are intrinsically linked for Manolo just as much as they are for Vinicio. Throughout the film, he also asserts that only he can give Vinicio a fair trial through his interview and that without him there would be no story. Though these two men stand on opposite ends of the spectrum: one a convict, the other a respected journalist, they remain hauntingly similar.