September 22, 2023

An outspoken anti-corruption candidate in Ecuador’s presidential race was shot and killed while campaigning in the nation’s capital Wednesday night.

Fernando Villavicencio, a former lawmaker and investigative journalist, was shot three times as he tried to enter a car following a campaign event in Quito.

He was shot in the head multiple times and transported to a clinic where he was pronounced dead, reports The Washington Post. A suspect, the alleged gunman, was apprehended and died in police custody, according to Ecuador’s Attorney General Diana Salazar. Six additional suspects, all Colombian nationals, were arrested after police found them hiding in a house in Quito with multiple firearms, reports the Associated Press.

Villavicencio made many enemies during his time as an investigative reporter, as well as in his role as a lawmaker, as a fierce vocal opponent of corruption. In 2014 he was forced to seek asylum in indigenous territory, surviving on crocodile and monkey meat, after then-President Rafael Correa charged him with defamation and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Correa would eventually be forced himself to seek asylum in Belgium after being accused of accepting Chinese petro-bribes, in large part thanks to Villavicencio’s reporting.

Villavicencio had made known to prosecutors the names of 21 mayoral candidates as well as numerous other citizens who he knew to be involved with criminal drug traffickers, claiming that he had given authorities financial evidence to back his claims, reports the Associated Press. No case has been brought as a result of this information.

Villavicencio has made public numerous threats made against him, most notably by the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel and Los Chorenos, a feared and powerful gang in Ecuador. The week before his death he had reported multiple death threats from the gang and their imprisoned leader Adolfo Macias, a.k.a. “Fito.”

Following Villavicencio’s murder, Fito was moved to a maximum security area of the prison he occupies (serving a 34-year drug trafficking sentence) in the port city of Guayaquil. 4000 soldiers from Ecuador’s military performed a sweep of the prison where they found weapons, ammo and explosives.

Though Villavicencio’s list of enemies was long and impressive, it appears the hit job was the work of Los Lobos, a criminal organization connected to Mexican cartels, who claimed the killing on social media.

Los Lobos also threatened another candidate Jan Topic saying “he’s next.” Topic had suspended his campaign immediately following the assassination.

Western media has incorrectly reported he was leading in the polls. He was actually polling about 11/12%. The leading candidate, Luis Gonzalez, was polling near 40%, according to independent journalist Fiorella Isabella. Gonzalez has condemned the assassination.

Villavicencio’s family (who apparently weren’t even allowed to see the body???) blame President Lasso’s government, saying security forces are in bed with cartels.

Despite a 60-day nationwide state of emergency imposed by President Lasso, snap elections scheduled for August 20th will continue, said Lasso. The elections are a result of President Lasso’s dissolution of the country’s legislature, which he initiated to avoid a likely impeachment, tied to accusations of embezzlement over state oil transport contracts given to private companies.

Villavicencio had, the day before his death, made a report to Attorney General on Petroecuador, the state-owned oil conglomerate for whom he once served as a trade unionist.

Villavicencio’s party considered suspending his campaign due to rising violence and death threats, but he was defiant saying “keeping silent and hiding in moments when criminals assassin citizens and authorities is an act of cowardice.”

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