59-year-old Fernando Villavicencio, a candidate in Ecuador’s forthcoming presidential election, “who campaigned against corruption and gangs” was shot dead at a campaign rally in the financial district of the capital of Quito. He was hit by three bullets in the head. He was a member of the country’s national assembly. He was married with five children, and was one of the eight candidates in the first round of the election, though he was not the frontrunner and polled in the middle.
As he was getting into a car, a burst of gunfire was heard with Mr Villavicencio’s uncle, Galo Valencia, describing the moment his nephew was killed: “We were just a few metres from the school when we were hit by a hail of about 40 bullets.”
Carlos Figueroa, another witness, said that “30 seconds after he [Fernando Villavicencio] left through the main door, the shots started”.
“Video from inside the building shows panicked supporters diving for cover. In the chaos, nine other people were injured, including a candidate for the country’s assembly and two police officers, prosecutors said.”
Fernando Villavicencio was “one of the few candidates to allege links between organized crime and government officials in Ecuador.”
A state of emergency has been declared and current President Guillermo Lasso has vowed the “crime will not go unpunished”.
The killing, according to President Guillermo Lasso, was carried out by organized crime.
Ecuador has traditionally been a relatively safe and stable Latin American country, but crime has increased in recent years, fueled by the increasing presence of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels that have infiltrated local criminal gangs. Such international drug cartels profit from a boom in cocaine trafficking.
Last month, Fernando Villavicencio received threats from the Los Choneros gang and was assigned a security detail.
Following his death, a video surfaced on social media in which heavily armed men wearing balaclavas claimed responsibility. The men claim to be members of Los Lobos (The Wolves), Los Choneros’ rivals.
However, hours later, another video emerged online in which another group of men – this time without masks – claimed to be Los Lobos and denied any involvement in the assassination, claiming the other video was an attempt by their rivals to frame them.
Both gangs wield considerable power, and the violence they have sown has been one of Ecuadoreans’ primary concerns ahead of the presidential elections on August 20.
“Mr Villavicencio, a serving congressman and former journalist, had condemned what he said was the lenient approach to the gangs, saying that were he to come to power, there would be a crackdown.”
“He is not the first politician to be assassinated. Last month, the mayor of the city of Manta was shot dead, while in February, a candidate for mayor in the city of Puerto López was killed.”
“But the shooting of a presidential candidate at a public event in the capital is the most brazen attack so far and shocking testimony to the strength of the gangs.”
“The suspect was also shot in an exchange of bullets with security and later died from his injuries, the country’s attorney general said on social media.”
“Six people have been detained by police in connection with the assassination after raids in Quito, they added.”
“A state of emergency has been declared and current President Guillermo Lasso has vowed the ‘crime will not go unpunished’.”