LatinNews Daily - 10 August 2023

ECUADOR: Presidential candidate assassinated

On 9 August a gunman assassinated Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential candidate in Ecuador’s 20 August general election.


Villavicencio’s murder marks a new low point in Ecuador’s ongoing security meltdown, in which political violence has surged amid the explosive growth of drug trafficking groups. Representing the centrist Construye, Villavicencio had based his campaign on pledges to crack down on corruption and crime. Whilst not a favourite to win the election, he had a reasonable chance of making the second round run-off, and with up to 50% of voters saying that they are still undecided, could not have been ruled out as a potential victor. Ecuador’s largest crime gang, Los Lobos, took responsibility for the assassination and suggested that it owed to Villavicencio’s alleged failure to uphold promises made to the group in return for campaign donations. This may have been an attempt to taint the reputation of security hardliners in the election, with the gang also naming Jan Topic of the Alianza por un País Sin Miedo coalition.

  • Villavicencio was shot dead as he left a campaign rally in Quito. A further nine people were injured in the attack, and the suspected gunman was then killed in a shootout with the security forces.
  • Villavicencio, who based his campaign on security and anti-corruption pledges, was a potential contender for the election’s second round run-off, which will be held if no candidate secures 40% of the vote plus a ten percentage point lead. Villavicencio scored between second and fifth place in different polls in recent weeks, with as many as half of respondents saying that they had not decided who to vote for.
  • In a video posted on social media, a group of armed men wearing balaclavas and claiming to be members of Los Lobos took responsibility for Villavicencio’s assassination. One of the group read a statement saying that “every time corrupt politicians don’t make good on the promises they make when they receive our money, which is millions of dollars to finance their campaign, they will be killed”. The man singled out Topic, warning that “if you don’t keep your word… you will be next”.
  • Villavicencio had said on 4 August that he had received death threats from another criminal gang, Los Choneros, but said that he would not let these stop him from campaigning. Following his murder, relatives of Villavicencio accused the authorities of not taking sufficient action to ensure his safety.
  • The attorney general’s office announced last night that six people had been arrested in connection with the assassination following raids at two locations in Quito, and said that weapons had been seized from one of the addresses.
  • President Guillermo Lasso declared a 60-day nationwide state of exception in response to the killing, which will see the armed forces deployed to assist with domestic security and the holding of the elections. He also declared a three-day period of national mourning.
  • Lasso, who is not seeking re-election, said that the “terrorist” assassination would not result in the suspension of the elections, saying that “this is the best reason to vote and defend democracy”.
  • Topic and Yaku Pérez, of the left-wing Claro Que Se Puede, both announced the temporary suspension of their campaigns in response to Villavicencio’s murder.
  • The US ambassador in Ecuador, Michael Fitzpatrick, said the US government is ready to assist in the investigation into the assassination.

Looking Ahead: With large swathes of voters still undecided, according to polls, the assassination could impact the election by increasing support for hardline security candidates such as Topic, an outsider proposing radical security policies inspired by El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele.

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