Photographer dies while covering protests

New York, April 21, 2005 ­ Photographer Julio Augusto García Romero died Tuesday evening, after inhaling tear gas while covering a demonstration in downtown Quito, Ecuador’s capital.

The demonstration, organized to protest the now-ousted President Lucio Gutiérrez, was moving toward the Palacio de Carondelet, the seat of the executive branch, when police fired water cannons and tear gas grenades into the crowd. The Chilean-born García Romero, 58, was taking photographs of the incident when he collapsed, the Guayaquil-based daily El Universo reported. He was then taken to Red Cross headquarters in Quito, where he arrived with symptoms of asphyxia. Later, however, he suffered cardiorespiratory arrest and was transferred to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to Jonny Franco, spokesman for the Ecuadoran Red Cross.

García Romero worked for the small Chilean news agency La Bocina (The Horn), El Universo said. Local sources told CPJ he also worked for the weekly Punto de Vista (Point of View). He had lived in Ecuador for around 20 years.

Protests in Ecuador increased in frequency after April 1, when the Supreme Court magistrates— appointed by Gutiérrez and his allies in Congress—dismissed corruption charges against two former presidents and a former vice president. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Gutiérrez imposed a state of emergency in Quito on April 15 and ordered the dismissal of the Supreme Court.

Yesterday, the Ecuadoran armed forces withdrew their support for Gutiérrez, and opposition legislators voted to remove him from office. Legislators then swore in Gutiérrez’s Vice President Alfredo Palacio. Gutiérrez took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Quito and has requested asylum, according to local press reports.