Unveiling the Hidden Face of War Against Drug Trafficking in Ecuador: Military Abuses

Unveiling the Hidden Face of War Against Drug Trafficking in Ecuador: Military Abuses

“They shot me to kill and they killed Javier,” states Eduardo Velasco, who is recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by soldiers. The incident took place at a military checkpoint in Ecuador, where reports of public forces’ abuses in the war against drugs are increasing.

On February 2, Velasco, aged 34, was driving with his 19-year-old cousin, Javier Vega, to sell a pet in Guayaquil, a port city located in the southwest of Ecuador and known as one of the most violent places in the country.

The court file reports that Velasco drove on despite the traffic restriction and ran over a soldier’s foot with his car tire. Velasco asserts that he collided with a patrol car while reversing.

“At that moment, I heard a detonation, my cousin held onto me (…) He became pale,” recounted Velasco, who is currently under house arrest for an alleged crime of attack and resistance.

“I saw them taking Javier down, beating him, and stepping on his head,” he recalled.

Velasco, unable to continue driving due to the bullet in his shoulder, also ended up on the ground, allegedly trampled by uniformed officers.

Javier Vega, who had no criminal record, died the following day due to four gunshot wounds that severely damaged his lungs, stomach, and spine.

The Human Rights Committee (CDH) is supporting the family in this case, which is one of many cases of alleged excessive force used by uniformed officers in Ecuador, which has been under a state of emergency since January.

Non-governmental organizations claim that reports of military abuses have surged since President Daniel Noboa declared an “internal armed conflict” in the country and deployed troops in the streets and prisons to combat twenty organizations classified as “terrorists.”

The AFP analyzed 18 videos that circulated on social networks between January 11 and February 4 in different provinces. In at least ten verified instances, abuses such as beatings can be seen on the streets during the night curfew. Inside the prisons, there have been instances of humiliation or tear gas bombs exploding very close to the faces of half-naked and subdued prisoners.

Laura Ipanaqué is fighting to clear the name of her son Javier, who was labeled a “terrorist” by the Armed Forces.

“No one can fill the void they have left inside me, this pain that I carry,” says the 41-year-old woman.

The judge in the case has ordered the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the alleged overreach of power by the military.

Fernando Bastias, coordinator of the CDH, explains that “the disproportionate use of force outside prisons (…) is very complex to monitor because it is happening almost everywhere and people believe that it is normal due to the state of emergency.”

“We have witnessed people being beaten and humiliated for disrespecting the curfew,” he states.

The situation is similar in prisons under military control.

During a hearing supported by the HRC for 18 prisoners to receive medical care, some revealed alleged torture, including electric shocks.

“They made me spread my legs and they hit me in the testicles, they hit me with a cable on the back,” one prisoner disclosed.

A judge ruled that there were violations of rights and ordered compensation for the victims.

The AFP requested interviews with the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces, but both declined the requests.

Simultaneously, the Armed Forces are releasing videos of prisoners under strict military discipline as they exercise, clean floors, sing, or claim to experience better living conditions inside prisons.

The United Nations has called on Ecuador to show a “proportionate” response to the wave of violence.

President Noboa, 36, defends his hardline policy.

“Let no one accuse us of violating anyone’s rights when we are protecting the rights of the vast majority,” stated Ecuador’s youngest president, surrounded by soldiers.

For Fernando Bastias, these statements pave the way for polarization and the path towards a potential presidential re-election in the face of an electorate weary from a gang war that resulted in a record of 46 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023.

According to the expert, while taking control of gang-dominated prisons is the “right” thing to do, “using torture as a form of punishment (…) is prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

Instead of promoting the “administration of justice”, a “sense of revenge” is being encouraged, he assessed.

The ruling on the violations against 18 prisoners exemplifies the need to “halt” the “brutality with which the Armed Forces were perpetrating abuses inside the prison,” Bastias continued.

According to his organization, the militarization of prisons where more than 460 inmates have died since 2021 hides an unresolved issue: the need to clean up the public force, which has been tainted by corruption scandals, human rights violations, and drug trafficking.

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