Fernando Villavicencio: Ecuador presidential candidate assassinated ahead of elections

Ecuador’s presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was shot and killed as he left a political rally in the capital city, just days before the upcoming elections. The incident occurred amidst a surge in gang-related violence in the South American nation. Video footage captured the moment when Villavicencio, surrounded by supporters and security guards, was led to a vehicle. Gunshots suddenly rang out, causing panic and prompting people to take cover while screaming loudly.

President Guillermo Lasso expressed his shock and outrage over the assassination, blaming organized crime for the attack. He vowed that the perpetrators would face the full force of the law. The Ecuadorian attorney general’s office revealed that one suspect involved in the assassination had died from wounds sustained in a shootout with the police. Additionally, six individuals connected to the killing were detained in raids in Quito. The shooting left nine others injured, including police officers and a congressional candidate. Authorities have condemned the incident as a “terrorist act.”

Villavicencio, a former journalist who had exposed corruption in previous governments, entered politics as an anti-graft campaigner. He had alerted authorities about multiple death threats, including those from members of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Ecuador has seen a rise in violent crime, with drug trafficking gangs perpetuating mass killings in prisons, and murder rates more than doubling in the past two years. In his final speech before his death, Villavicencio declared his commitment to combating corruption and imprisoning the country’s “thieves.” He regarded his campaign as a threat to organized crime groups.

After the shooting, Villavicencio’s uncle, Galo Valencia, emotionally criticized the state for inadequate security measures, stating that he initially believed the gunshots were fireworks until he witnessed the wounded falling and saw blood. He described the scene as a horror film and lamented the state of insecurity in the country, questioning if silencing a man who fought for over two decades was the way to win elections and protect democracy.

Villavicencio was one of eight candidates running in the presidential elections on August 20. Although not considered a front-runner, he was recognized as one of the country’s most prominent voices against corruption, particularly during the government of President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017. The decision by President Lasso to dissolve the National Assembly in May led to a snap election, aiming to avoid potential impeachment proceedings related to allegations of mishandling an erroneous contract involving a state-owned oil transport firm and a private tanker company.

Fellow candidates and politicians expressed their condolences following Villavicencio’s assassination, while his supporters mourned the loss of hope for a corruption-free and drug cartel-free country. Former vice president and candidate Otto Sonnenholzner demanded action, emphasizing the dire situation Ecuadorians face, and one of Villavicencio’s supporters, Ida Paez, highlighted the hope he had instilled in the nation. Another supporter, Edison Romo, a former military intelligence colonel, viewed Villavicencio’s anti-corruption activism as a threat to international criminal organizations.

Villavicencio is survived by his wife and five children. His murder serves as a stark reminder of the challenges Ecuador faces in combating organized crime, corruption, and violence, and the urgent need for effective measures to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.

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