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Ecuador Anti-Corruption Presidential Candidate Assassinated - Organized Crime Blamed

By Belal Awad · August 10, 2023

Ecuador's anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was shot dead Wednesday.  Ecuador National Assembly/Wikimedia

Ecuador is reeling after the brazen assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio at a campaign event in Quito Wednesday. Villavicencio, 59, a member of the country’s national assembly and an outspoken anti-corruption candidate, was shot in the head by an unknown assailant as he left the event. He was rushed to a hospital where he died from his injuries.

The suspected gunman was shot and killed by police at the scene. Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency and vowed on Twitter that “organized crime has gone too far, but the full weight of the law will be applied to them.”

Ecuador, considered one of Latin America’s most peaceful nations, has seen a surge in drug trafficking and homicides in recent years. Agustin Intriago, mayor of the port city of Manta, was assassinated only last month.

“This country was relatively peaceful up until a few years ago. But being located between the two biggest cocaine-producing nations in the world, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has really become a crucial transit point for cocaine heading both to the United States and to Europe” Washington Post reporter Samantha Schmidt told BBC. She added that the cocaine trade has resulted in “an influx of Mexican cartels, as well as Albanian mafias working with local gangs [which] has sent drug trafficking and violence spiraling out of control.”

Two other presidential candidates have announced that they are suspending their campaigns due to security concerns in the wake of Villavicencio’s assassination.

Nevertheless, National Electoral Council President Diana Atamaint insisted, “The date of the elections scheduled for August 20 remain unalterable.”

The shooting followed public threats made against Villavicencio, who was the No. 2 candidate for president based on recent polls.

According to Schmidt, “Villavicencio had received death threats from powerful drug trafficking groups as recently as this month. This is a really brazen assassination that is stunning Ecuador.”

With the first round of voting just weeks away, Villavicencio’s murder will likely impact the election. The attack underscores how organized crime has plunged Ecuador into crisis and threatens its democracy. “There needs to be a sort of national discussion about what this means and what comes next… to make sure to protect political candidates. So this really is a huge threat to democracy if it’s having a chilling effect on the remaining candidates.” Schmidt told BBC.

Light Wave commentary

The brazen assassination of a presidential candidate in Ecuador is a chilling example of how organized crime and drug cartels are threatening democracy and stability in Latin America. This high-profile murder has shocked a nation and placed a cloud over the upcoming national election. Once an island of peace in a turbulent region, Ecuador has become the latest victim of the drug wars raging to its north in Colombia and to its south in Peru, the world’s two biggest cocaine producers.