Sunday, 3 Mar 2024

Ecuadorian presidential candidate assassinated during shootout at campaign rally

An Ecuadorian presidential candidate known for speaking up against cartels and corruption has been shot dead at a campaign rally.

Fernando Villavicencio, a member of the country’s national assembly, was attacked as he left the event in the northern city of Quito on Wednesday.

A member of his campaign team told local media Mr Villavicencio was getting into a car when a man stepped forward and shot him in the head.

Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso confirmed the assassination and suggested organised crime was behind his slaying, less than two weeks before the Aug. 20 presidential election.

‘I assure you that this crime will not go unpunished,’ Lasso said in a statement. ‘Organized crime has gone too far, but they will feel the full weight of the law.’

The suspect was shot by security forces in a firefight following the killing and later died in hospital, the country’s attorney generl confirmed on socal media.

In his final speech before he was killed, Villavicencio promised a roaring crowd that he would root out corruption and lock up the country’s ‘thieves.’

The presidential candidate said he had received multiple death threats throughout the campaign, including several from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, one of a slew of international organized crime groups that now operate in Ecuador.

He said his campaign represented a threat to such groups.

‘Here I am showing my face. I’m not scared of them,’ Villavicencio said in a statement, naming detained crime boss José Adolfo Macías by his alias ‘Fito.’

Villavicencio was one of eight candidates in the upcoming election, but was not considered the frontrunner. The politician, 59, was the candidate for the Build Ecuador Movement.

Former vice president and candidate Otto Sonnenholzner said in a news conference following Wednesday’s killing, ‘We are dying, drowning in a sea of tears and we do not deserve to live like this. We demand that you do something.’

Videos of the rally on social media appear to show Villavicencio walking out of the event surrounded by guards. The video then shows the candidate getting into a white pickup truck before gunshots are heard, followed by screams and commotion around the truck.

Villavicencio was one of the country’s most critical voices against corruption, especially during the 2007-2017 government of President Rafael Correa.

He was also an independent journalist who investigated corruption in previous governments, later entering politics an an anti-graft campaigner.

Villavicencio filed many judicial complaints against high ranking members of the Correa government, including against the ex-president himself. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation his criticisms of Correa, and fled to indigenous territory in Ecuador, later receiving asylum in neighboring Peru.

Edison Romo, a former military intelligence colonel, said the complaints made Villavicencio ‘a threat to international criminal organizations.’

Authorities said that at least nine others were injured, including officers and a congressional candidate, in what they described as a ‘terrorist act.’

The killing was met with an outcry by other candidates who demanded action, with presidential frontrunner Luisa González of the Citizen Revolution party saying ‘when they touch one of us, they touch all of us.’

Villavicencio was married and is survived by five children.

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