Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was fatally shot at a Wednesday evening campaign rally in the capital city of Quito.
Villavicencio, a former journalist and legislator in the National Assembly, was known for his outspoken stance on cracking down on drug cartels and corruption. The killing is believed to be related to the escalation of cartel-related violence in Ecuador over the last five years. While he is not the first prominent politician to be targeted this year, he is the first presidential candidate to ever be assassinated in the once-peaceful country.
The Ecuador Attorney General’s Office released a statement indicating that the suspected gunman had died in custody after an exchange of fire with security personnel, which injured nine other people. Six arrests were also made throughout Quito related to the killing, and the assassins reportedly threw a grenade into the street – later destroyed by police in a controlled explosion. Footage circulating on social media appears to show the moment Villavicencio was assassinated.
Villavicencio had previously reported receiving death threats, one of which resulted in a detention by Ecuadorian authorities, and along with six other candidates was stated to be under police protection. In his final speech before his death, he called out political corruption and organized crime, stating that his campaign was a threat to them.
“Here I am showing my face. I’m not scared of them,” Villavicencio said of the criminal groups.
The assassination saw an outcry from Villavicencio’s fellow candidates, with front-runner Luisa González declaring, “when they touch one of us, they touch all of us.” Otto Sonnenholzner, a former vice president, likewise stated at a news conference, “We are dying, drowning in a sea of tears, and we do not deserve to live like this.”
Incumbent President Guillermo Lasso declared three days of national mourning and a state of emergency for the next 60. The Aug. 20 election will proceed as planned.
“Organized crime has come a long way, but the full weight of the law will fall on them,” Lasso stated.
Lasso has led an embattled administration since the former banker was elected in 2021. The election itself was called after he dissolved the National Assembly in May, following a push among opposition legislators for an impeachment vote over accusations of embezzlement.
US Ambassador to Ecuador Michael J. Fitzpatrick conveyed his shock at the assassination on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, and offered the assistance of the U.S. government in investigating the attack.
(Photo courtesy of AP)