How a teenager’s death drew attention to human rights concerns in Ecuador

In its post on social media, the Armed Forces of Ecuador explained that soldiers fired their weapons after Vega’s car “attempted to evade control, ramming into military personnel and hitting a patrol vehicle”.

To justify its actions, the armed forces cited an executive order issued by President Noboa in January, which said a state of emergency was necessary to address the “internal armed conflict” unfolding in Ecuador.

The order authorised the military to “neutralise” criminal groups and other “terrorist” actors.

But Vega’s family believes the accusations against the teenager are a cover-up. They reject any notion that Vega was a “terrorist”.

Ipanaque described Vega as a warm-hearted teenager, devoutly religious and hard-working.

“We have been going to a Christian church since Carlos was very young. He played the bass in the local chorus. He worked Monday to Friday in our bakery and went to rehearsal on the weekend. He was a happy, careful, affectionate person,” Ipanaque said.

Carlos Javier Vega, top left, poses for a family photo with his parents and siblings [Courtesy of the family of Carlos Javier Vega]

Vega’s cousin Velasco also disputes the military’s version of events. He survived the shooting, while Vega died the next day at the hospital.

Velasco was driving the Chevrolet at the time of the gunfire. He told Al Jazeera he uses the car for his work as a private driver, and it comes with a partition screen behind the driver’s seat.

He and Vega were nearly at the university when they encountered three soldiers blocking the street. According to Velasco, the soldiers refused to let them pass. Velasco attempted to persuade the soldiers to let them through, but they remained adamant.

That was when the trouble started. Velasco said he shifted the car’s gears into reverse — and as he drove backwards, he accidentally struck a security vehicle.

Jolted by the collision, he remembers accelerating forward, bringing his vehicle to a stop back in front of the checkpoint. That’s when he heard the pop of gunfire.

“I saw my cousin fall against the car partition and turn green,” Velasco told Al Jazeera.

Then he heard another shot. “I thought I was caught in a crossfire during a raid, so I tried to get out [of the area] as fast as I could.”

Velasco drove the Chevrolet for about 200 metres before realising he too had been struck by a bullet: His shoulder was bleeding through his grey T-shirt. He stopped the car, stepped out and called for help. That’s when the military patrol reached him.

“They throw me to the floor, beat me,” Velasco said, recounting the incident blow by blow. “They walk over my head and my injury. And they hit my cousin too.”

The soldiers checked his car, but Velasco said they found nothing suspicious. It was only after a police patrol approached the scene that he said the ambulance was called.

 

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