National elections will go on as planned following assassination of presidential candidate Villavicencio

Aug 10, 2023 | 0 comments

Fernando Villavicencio

Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was murdered late Wednesday afternoon as he left a political rally in Quito. According to police, Villavicencio died from three gunshots to the head as he entered a car following the rally at Colegio Anderson in a northern suburb. Witnesses say several security guards were around the candidate when the gunman approached the car and began firing.

A vocal advocate against organized crime and government corruption, Villavicencio had received numerous threats on his life in recent weeks as he outlined his plan to combat drug gangs and government officials who protect them.

According to political polls, Villavicencio was contending for second place and a spot in a likely runoff election with the campaign leader, Luisa Gonzalez of Citizens Revolution. Considered a political centrist, Villavicencio represented the Construye 25 Alliance. Other candidates vying for second position in the election are former vice president Otto Sonnenholzner, Cuenca environmental attorney Yaku Pérez and Jan Topic.

Following an emergency meeting with his cabinet and members of the National Electoral Council, President Guillermo Lasso announced that the August 20 national election will proceed as scheduled. The president declared three days of national mourning and a 60-day state of emergency. He also said ceremonies commemorating Ecuador’s First Cry of Independence holiday on Friday have been suspended.

“Let there be no mistake, this is a political crime and terrorist act aimed at sabotaging our electoral process,” Lasso said. “Those responsible will be arrested and prosecuted.” He added that “large numbers” of police and military personnel will be assigned to protecting the candidates and their rallies through the remainder of the campaign.

Supporters of Fernando Villavicencio gathered Wednesday night at the government building on Parque Calderon in Cuenca following the candidate’s assassination. Other rallies were held in Quito, Riobamba and Guayaquil.

At midnight Wednesday, National Police said they had arrested six men involved in the assassination. One of the suspects was shot in an exchange of gunfire with police and died after he was taken to the prosecutor’s office. A police spokesman who asked not to be named, said the gunmen were operating on orders from criminal gang leaders and represented only the “tip of the iceberg.”

In addition to Villavicencio, at least nine others, including two policemen and a candidate for the National Assembly, were hit by gunfire in the attack. Names of the victims and their conditions were not announced as of early Thursday morning.

All seven of Villavicencio’s election opponents issued statements of condolence following the murder, most saying they will temporarily suspend their campaigns.

Villavicencio, 59, was born in Alausí, 50 miles north of Cuenca, but grew up and was educated in Quito. He began his career as a union leader for workers of Petroecuador, later becoming an investigative reporter for several newspapers and websites.

During the presidency of Rafael Correa, Villavicencio accused Correa of “reckless disregard for human life” for ordering a 2010 military assault on a police hospital in Quito. In response, Correa sued Villavicencio for slander and won, the judgement imposing an 18-month prison sentence against Villavicencio and his friend, Dr Carlos Figueroa. The pair escaped to the Amazon town of Sarayaku, where they were protected from arrest by indigenous friends.

Villavicencio and Figueroa returned to public life when their sentence term expired and were not arrested.

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