Presidential hopeful from Ecuador, Fernando Villavicencio, known for his fervent opposition to corruption and organized crime, tragically lost his life during a political gathering last Wednesday. This incident occurs amidst increasing concerns about violence, with many attributing the unrest to drug cartels.
Several witnesses and local reports suggest that around 30 gunshots were fired during an event in northern Quito. Videos shared online depicted Villavicencio boarding a vehicle post-event, soon followed by the chilling sounds of gunshots and ensuing panic.
While there was no immediate comment from Ecuador’s police or Interior Ministry regarding the specifics of the incident, the sitting President Guillermo Lasso acknowledged that a grenade, presumably left by the attackers, had been safely neutralized by authorities.
Lasso, after consulting with security and electoral personnel, condemned the act, highlighting its political and terrorist nature. He believes such acts aim to disrupt the electoral proceedings. Consequently, he declared a three-day mourning period, coupled with a nationwide state of emergency, thereby deploying the military to ensure the populace’s safety. Despite this setback, the scheduled presidential election will proceed on August 20.
Following the violent episode, the attorney general’s office reported the demise of a suspect due to injuries from a related shootout, which also left nine others wounded, among them a legislative candidate and two law enforcement officers. In subsequent operations in Quito, six individuals were apprehended for alleged involvement.
The current Lasso administration has attributed the uptick in violence to turf wars among criminal factions, which include Mexican drug cartels and the Albanian mafia, vying for control over drug distribution networks.
Voter priorities in the upcoming presidential race prominently feature security concerns, job prospects, and migration issues. Villavicencio had campaigned on a platform to eradicate corruption and minimize tax fraud. Pre-election polls placed him fifth among eight contenders, with 7.5% support.
In a recent update, Villavicencio’s party, Movimiento Construye, disclosed on a social platform (formerly known as Twitter) that their Quito office had experienced a separate armed assault. The party also shared that there had been discussions regarding campaign suspension due to rising political violence. This comes in the backdrop of another high-profile murder of Manta’s mayor in July. Villavicencio, however, believed that retreating in these critical times would be a sign of weakness.
Previously, Villavicencio worked as a unionist and later as a journalist. He had brought to light potential financial discrepancies in oil deals. He hailed from Chimborazo and had once been an employee of the state-owned Petroecuador.
Public outcry against this murder was palpable, with late-night processions in various cities, notably his native Alausi. Villavicencio had previously criticized ex-President Rafael Correa, facing a prison sentence for defamation against Correa. He sought refuge in Indigenous lands within Ecuador and eventually received asylum in Peru.
Correa, currently residing in Belgium, commented on the situation, lamenting Ecuador’s decline.
As a legislator, Villavicencio was known to oppose a recent attempt to impeach Lasso, leading to the calling of early elections.
Other contenders expressed their shock and grief over this incident. Luisa Gonzalez, from Correa’s party, assured that justice would be served. Indigenous nominee Yaku Perez decided to halt his campaign, calling for an end to the violence. Another candidate, Otto Sonnenholzner, expressed urgent need for governmental action. Jan Topic, echoing these sentiments, also suspended his campaign efforts.
BREAKING: Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Fernando Villavicencio assassinated at campaign event – Local media
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) August 10, 2023
Simpatizantes de Fernando Villavicencio lograron capturar a un sospechoso del crimen al candidato. https://t.co/juqh67WlYk
— Ronald Vinces (@RonaldVinces5) August 10, 2023