Ecuador’s presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio (link in Spanish) was shot dead at a political rally in capital city of Quito yesterday (Aug. 9), just 10 days before Ecuadorians are due to head to the polls.
A former journalist and trade unionist, the 59-year-old had been an outspoken critic of organized crime and corruption in the oil sector. His running mate, environmentalist Andrea Belén González, mourned the candidate’s assassination in a statement on social media (link in Spanish): “They took our brave president. I’m devastated. Ecuador does not deserve to lose you like this.”
His killing has the marks of drug cartel hit, the country’s current president appeared to suggest. President Guillermo Lasso, who said he was “outraged and shocked” by the assassination in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, (link in Spanish) vowed to get justice for Villavicencio. “[T]his crime will not go unpunished... Organized crime has come a long way, but the full weight of the law is going to fall on them,” wrote Lasso, who dissolved the country’s Congress in May to avoid impeachment and triggered a snap election.
A suspect was shot and apprehended, but died shortly after his arrest, the national prosecutor’s office said in a post on X (link in Spanish). Nine other people, including two police officers and a candidate for a National Assembly seat, were shot in the kerfuffle.
Situated between war-torn Peru and Colombia—two massive cocaine-producing factories—Ecuador was once christened “an island of peace,” but that moniker is outdated. Recently, it’s been plagued by a turf war between drug traffickers. This is the first killing on the campaign trail in Ecuador’s history but it comes at the heels of other deadly hits on political figures, judicial officers, and police officers. Following the attack yesterday, Villavicencio’s party, Movimiento Construye, wrote in a social media post that armed men attacked its Quito offices.
Lasso has declared three days of mourning and a 60-day state of emergency. Elections will go on as planned on Aug. 20, according to the president of the Electoral Council, Diana Atamaint. Villavicencio was polling fifth among eight candidates at the time of his killing.
September 2021: Prison riots erupt between rival Mexican cartels in the Litoral penitentiary in the coastal city of Guayaquil over the control of cocaine trafficking routes in Ecuador, leaving 116 inmates dead. More than 400 prisoners have been killed—many burned alive or beheaded—in the last two and a half years.
October 2021: Lasso declares a state of emergency over drug trafficking in October 2021.
December 2022: Lasso petitions congress to allow the military to support police work in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking.
April 2023: Lasso legalizes the individual use and carry firearms for self-defense as crime rates soar.
February 2023: Omar Menéndez, a leftist mayoral candidate in Puerto López, is murdered during a meeting with campaign staff. Hours later, he was elected posthumously after bagging more than 46% of the votes.
July 2023: Agustín Intriago, mayor of the coastal city of Manta, is shot dead. Manta is the country’s main tuna port with an endless stream of cargo and fishing boats for traffickers to exploit. Movimiento Construye party members consider suspending their campaigning after this hit, but Villavicencio urged them to continue.
August 2023: Villavicencio reported threats against himself and his team twice in the week before his death. He was under police protection when the incident occurred.
86%: How much homicide rates in Ecuador rose year-on-year in 2022, according to Insight Crime. Illicit narcotics trading is mostly to blame for the unprecedented surge. At 25.9 murders per 10,000 population, Ecuador’s homicide rate has surpassed that of infamour murder epicenters like Mexico (25.2) and Brazil (19).
️👮 Villavicencio vowed Build a maximum security prison aimed at catching and housing the most dangerous drug traffickers, illegal miners, and people involved in corruption and bribery.
🛢️ The former union member at state oil company Petroecuado criticized as overly generous contracts awarded to companies including PetroChina, Halliburton, and SLB, pledging to renegotiate oil deals.
💊 In a July 31 statement, the candidate vowed to improve and strengthen access to medical attention and the supply of medicines.
“Electorally speaking, this year is the most violent in our history. I think that what is going to change is the way we conceive of politics. I think that from now on it becomes a high-risk profession.”—Arianna Tanca, an Ecuadorean political scientist, to the New York Times on Aug. 9
During the 2007-2017 government of president Rafael Correa, then-journalist Villavicencio reported on corruption scandals by the Ecuadorian leader and his aides, including receiving bribes from businessmen. His investigation eventually led to Correa’s conviction in absentia. Correa denied any wrongdoing and went into exile in Belgium.
Villavicencio’s crusade against corruption wasn’t without consequences. In 2014, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defaming Correa. He fled to the Amazon rainforest and was given asylum in Peru. Two years later, a judge also ordered his incarceration for revealing secret information obtained by hacking into Correa administration e-mails in a bid to expose corruption in the oil sector. Villavicencio returned to Ecuador in 2017.
Correa posted a statement lamenting Villavicencio’s assassination. “Ecuador has become a failed state,” Correa wrote (link in Spanish). “My solidarity with his family and with all the families of the victims of violence.”