In the Colombian town of Lorica, the community is still trying to assimilate the death of Edwin Miguel Arrieta Arteaga, the 44-year-old plastic surgeon who was murdered and dismembered in Thailand. Arrieta grew up in the Cascajal neighborhood, a modest area located a few blocks from the market square of Lorica, where the clamor of street vendors mixes with the smell of fish and the incessant traffic of motorcycles.
As a boy, he lived with his parents — a radio and television restorer and a school teacher — who instilled in him Catholic values. He spent his last years of high school at Normal Superior Santa Teresita, a school founded in Lorica by missionary nuns of that congregation. “Since he was a child, he had two dreams: to be a doctor and to see the world,” says Darling Arrieta, the surgeon’s older sister.
Arrieta began his studies at the Metropolitan University of Barranquilla, a five-hour drive from Lorica, a town of 112,000 residents. While the course was very demanding, he did not give up, and he graduated around 2000. Arrieta then went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to specialize as a plastic, aesthetic and reconstructive surgeon as postgraduate studies at the University of Buenos Aires were less expensive than in Colombia. This was how Arrieta began to carve out his path in the lucrative business of cosmetic surgery that considered him as one of the most esteemed professionals in the Caribbean.
After living another year in Argentina, he returned to Montería, the capital of the department of Córdoba, which was just an hour from Lorica. From in Montería, he had more room to grow. He opened a cosmetic surgery office, and also worked in three clinics as a reconstructive surgeon, correcting scars from traffic accidents, burns and gunshot wounds. As his private practice grew, he left one of those jobs to serve the countless patients who came from other cities in the country and the world in search of cosmetic surgery. After building up a large number of clients from Chile, he decided to practice cosmetic surgery in Chile, where he had certified his degree from Buenos Aires. At the start of 2022, he began to spend every second fortnight of the month in the country.
The anesthesiologist Silvio Suárez, who worked with Arrieta almost every day in the operating rooms of the Friends of Health Foundation, remembers his dedication to the profession. “He was dedicated to his patients, a perfectionist in what he did. He was happy, spontaneous and fun,” says Suárez.
After becoming a prominent surgeon, Arrieta moved to the El Recreo neighborhood of Montería, the most exclusive in the city. Filled with luxury houses, his neighbors were families with political and economic power. He also had a vacation cabin in Coveñas, a nearby resort town on the Caribbean. Arrieta was a polo player and set an alarm every day to say the chaplet of Divine Mercy with a rosary at 3 p.m.
The 44-year-old Colombian doctor never forgot about his family. He was the pillar of the family. They trusted him with both big and small decisions. Arrieta often traveled to Lorica. He went to the simple house where he grew up and spent his time with family. When he was away, he called his parents several times a day. That was why they were so concerned when he fell silent from Thailand on August 3. Their fears turned to dismay when it was revealed that he had been murdered by Spaniard Daniel Sancho, the son of actor Rodolfo Sancho.
Nohemí Ballesteros, a neighbor and friend of the family, says that Arrieta always looked after his parents, who were elderly and had health problems. “Whenever he arrived, the first thing he did was go and see them. In the morning, he would say to his mother: ‘Mom, how did you sleep? Here I am.’ When she was going to bed: ‘Mother, I’m going to bed now, you can go to sleep now without worrying.’ There are children that do not take this into account. When someone gives everything to their family, that’s the way it is with others, and that’s the way Dr. Edwin was,” says Ballesteros, who works at a hairdresser’s in Lorica.
Arrieta also went out of his way for his friends. Those closest to him remember that when he would “run, not walk” to see them; he liked celebrations and playing host. “He was very sociable, very friendly,” says his sister. Traveling made him feel alive. He kept track of the countries he had visited — he had traveled to Italy, Turkey, North Africa — and those that he was yet to see. Before leaving one destination, he was thinking about the next. “He was a dreamer who wanted to travel the world. He worked to travel,” says one of his close friends. One of his dreams was to go to Scandinavia and see the Arctic.
Before his trip to Thailand, which was his first time in that country according to his family, the surgeon said that he was going to meet Spanish friends. He did not specifically mention Daniel Sancho. Indeed, his relatives in Colombia had never heard about him. Suárez, the anesthesiologist, says that Arrieta was reserved about his private life and was happy about the trip. “He was going to learn about new cultures, new ways of seeing life, which was what interested him,” says Suárez.
Arrieta had said that he was planning to go live in Spain because they lived well in that country. “He went there around five times in the last 10 months. He said that he was working on getting his documents validated, and that he had plans to set up businesses in Madrid,” adds Suárez.
First the investigation, then the repatriation
Edwin Arrieta’s relatives are waiting for his remains to be repatriated. They do not want the process to affect the collection of evidence in the Southeast Asian country. The family’s lawyer, Miguel González Sánchez, has said that the trial must take place in Thailand, without Sancho — who confessed to the murder — being extradited to Spain. “The crime occurred there, so we don’t see the need for it to be transferred. Extradition would go against the rights of the victims. We believe that Thailand is an impartial territory and would give more guarantees,” he says, adding that they are awaiting an official report on the money, reportedly $80,000, and the victim’s belongings that were found at the hotel where he was staying.
In addition to mourning their friend, Arrieta’s friends and family have also called for justice. “Edwin is not here to defend himself. We are all raising our voices for justice to be done. We are asking for the case not to be forgotten, for Colombia and the entire world to continue to show solidarity,” says Viviana Ordosgoitia, one of his best friends. “We are asking for justice for my friend and for there to be no fame or influence peddling. We are calling for justice for Edwin and for the person responsible to pay a sentence in Thailand,” adds another friend.
The doctor’s family is not seeking the death penalty as punishment, but they do want a sentence that will serve as an example. “Only God can take away and give life. No human being has the right to take the life of another, no matter how much evil they have done. We want justice to be done, but we believe in divine justice,” says Darling Arrieta, dressed in mourning for her brother. She is grieving with her parents in the Lorica home where the renowned surgeon grew up.
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