The assassination of an anti-corruption presidential candidate in Ecuador shocks the nation. An Ecuadorian presidential candidate who recently vowed to ferret out corruption and lock up the country’s “thieves” was fatally shot at a political rally in the nation’s capital as the South American government struggles with drug-related crime and violence.
Fernando Villavicencio, 59, was assassinated on Wednesday, less than two weeks before a special presidential election. Villavicencio was known for speaking out against traffickers. He was not a frontrunner, but his murder exacerbated a crisis of organized crime that has already claimed thousands of lives, highlighting the difficulty facing Ecuador’s next leader.
A video of the Quito rally posted on social media showed Villavicencio leaving the rally surrounded by security personnel. The footage then showed the candidate getting into a white pickup truck, followed by gunshots, screams, and chaos surrounding the vehicle.
Patricio Zuquilanda, the campaign advisor for Villavicencio, verified the sequence of events to The Associated Press.
Zuquilanda stated that the candidate had reported at least three death threats before the shooting, which resulted in one arrest.
“The Ecuadorian people are crying, and Ecuador is mortally wounded,” the advisor stated. “Politics cannot lead to the death of any member of society.”
Former Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner, also running for president, lamented the defeat at a news conference: “We are dying, drowning in a sea of tears, and we do not deserve to live like this.”
President Guillermo Lasso stated that the assassins threw a grenade into the street to conceal their escape, but it did not detonate. Later, police fired the grenade using a controlled detonation. Six individuals were apprehended as a consequence of operations in various Quito neighborhoods. According to the attorney general’s office, a detained suspect succumbed to gunshot wounds.
Lasso insinuated that the murder may have been related to organized crime and insisted that the August 20 election proceed as planned. He declared three days of national mourning and a state of emergency, requiring the nationwide deployment of additional military personnel.
“Despite losing a democratic leader and a combatant, the elections will continue. Thursday, Lasso stated that elections must be conducted and democracy must be strengthened.
Villavicencio promised a roaring audience in his final speech that he would combat corruption and imprison more criminals before he was executed.
Affiliates of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, one of numerous international organized crime organizations now operating in Ecuador, had threatened him. He stated that his campaign posed a threat to such organizations.
Here, I present my visage. Before his death, Villavicencio issued a statement in which he referred to detained criminal boss José Adolfo Macas by his alias, “Fito.”
Since drug traffickers began using the country’s coastal ports, Ecuadorians have witnessed a level of violence not seen in decades. In numerous significant cities, gunfire is audible as rival factions battle for control and gangs have recruited children.
The mayor of the coastal city of Manta was murdered just one month ago. Lasso declared a state of emergency on July 26 for two provinces and the country’s penal system to stop the violence.
People waiting for buses in Guayaquil, a port city south of Quito that has been the epicenter of gang violence, reacted with astonishment to Villavicencio’s murder.
Leidy Aguirre, a 28-year-old pharmacist, stated, “It demonstrates that the country’s violence is increasing.” This demonstrates that even politicians need to be more secure, despite the common belief that they enjoy greater security than the general public.
People elsewhere went about their daily lives by participating in outdoor exercise classes and taking daily treks, resigned to living amid the violence. A 38-year-old housewife, Marjorie Lino, lamented the danger as she walked with a companion along the main road that leads to one of the most violent neighborhoods in the country.
“To us as women, our husbands tell us not to go out here, but it doesn’t matter (because) when one is going to die, one dies even at the front door of one’s house,” she said. In her opinion, none of the presidential candidates can halt the violence.
Villavicencio was one of the country’s most outspoken critics of corruption, particularly during the presidency of Rafael Correa (2007-2017).
Before entering politics as an anti-corruption activist, he was an independent journalist investigating corruption in previous governments.
Villavicencio lodged numerous legal complaints against high-ranking Correa administration officials, including the ex-president. In response to his criticisms of Correa, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation. He subsequently fled to an Indigenous territory in Ecuador before obtaining asylum in neighboring Peru.
Former military intelligence colonel Edison Romo stated that Villavicencio’s anti-corruption complaints made him “a threat to international criminal organizations.”
Lasso, a conservative former financier, was elected in 2021 on a pro-business platform and immediately clashed with the National Assembly’s left-leaning majority coalition.
Lasso dissolved the National Assembly by decree in May to avoid being impeached for allegedly failing to intervene in the termination of a flawed contract between the state-owned oil transport company and a private tanker company.
In recent years, the country has experienced several political upheavals.
Authorities reported that nine others, including a congressional candidate, were wounded in the assault.
Other candidates demanded action in response to the murder, with presidential front-runner Luisa González of the Citizen Revolution party stating, “When they touch one of us, they touch all of us.”
Villavicencio was wed and left behind five children.