Assassination rocks Ecuador’s presidential race

Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was shot and killed as he left a campaign rally in the capital Quito on Wednesday evening, just days before Ecuador’s first round election on 20 August.

Known for decades as a relatively peaceful haven, Ecuador has recently been hit by unprecedented violence. What’s going on?

  • 🕊️ Major rebel group FARC agreed to disband in neighbouring Colombia in 2017, after years of peace talks
  • 🚧 As Colombia took control of FARC turf, organised crime moved to find other routes to traffic cocaine out to global markets
  • 🏗️ Ecuador, with its porous borders, solid infrastructure, and Pacific ports, emerged as a natural choice
  • 🌎 Various transnational criminal organisations moved to partner with local gangs there to establish and control the main routes

The result? Ecuador’s homicide rate more than quadrupled from 2018.

In that context, Villavicencio, while not seen as a front-runner, was one of the most vocal candidates against organised crime and its state links.

So who carried out his assassination? Ecuadorian authorities killed one assailant and have arrested another six, reportedly all Colombian nationals.

Their affiliation is unclear, but Villavicencio had received death threats last week from local gang Los Choneros (linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel). Rival gang Los Lobos (linked to Mexico’s CJNG cartel) has denied involvement, after a video emerged purporting to show them claiming responsibility.

Intrigue’s take: While Ecuador grapples with its first assassination of a presidential candidate in decades, the world has voiced its support, and the US is now sending FBI investigators at Quito’s request.

Transnational criminal organisations use public displays of violence in an attempt to instil fear, intimidate officials, and exert control. But this is a major escalation that will really exacerbate the sense of crisis for many Ecuadorians. Whomever they elect as president has a rough road ahead.

Also worth noting:

  • Citing the country’s constitution, Ecuador’s electoral authority says the election will still take place on 20 August as scheduled.
  • Villavicencio was polling 4th. The front-runner is Luisa González from the left-leaning party of former President Rafael Correa.
  • As a journalist, Villavicencio’s work led to the 2020 graft conviction (in absentia) of former President Correa, who now lives in Belgium.
  • Moments before his death, Villavicencio said “here, we pay for democracy with our lives.” He is survived by his wife and five children.
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