Six Colombians arrested for Villavicencio’s murder show the foreign connection to Ecuador violence
On a day that mixed outrage and sadness, the six Colombians accused of assassinating presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio made their first court appearance in Quito. In addition to murder, the suspects are charged with drug and arms possession.
Also on Thursday, police took an additional 10 people into custody on suspicion of involvement in the murder, with four of them formerly arrested.
Police say they have collected “a large quantity” of evidence in the case, including cell phones used by the suspects.
In a morning press conference, Ecuador Defense Minister Luis Lara said that the “drug mafias have declared war on Ecuador,” as he outlined the functions the armed forces will perform during the 60-day state of emergency ordered by President Guillermo Lasso.
“The country is in mourning today but there is also a wave of indignation and rage washing over Ecuador,” Lara said. “We now understand that the mafias have targeted the people of Ecuador with their violence and hate. The government, the police and the armed forces will respond with all their power to confront the murderers and their criminal accomplices. We will also go after those who finance and protect them.”
Lara also said that much of the violence plaguing the country is “imported from other countries.” He cited a National Police report that the majority of murders in 2022 and through June of 2023 were committed by foreigners. “We must take specific steps to confront this reality,” he said, saying that military personnel are setting up roadblocks on highways near the Colombian border to check for weapons and drugs.
Earlier Thursday, the Interior Ministry announced that it has asked the U.S. FBI to join Villavicencio’s murder investigation with an emphasis on the role of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. According to President Guillermo Lasso, the FBI agreed to the request, saying a team of experts will arrive in Quito on Friday.
According to security expert Miguel Gama, the foreign connection to Ecuador’s crime wave is often overlooked. “It is important to know the enemy we are facing and, until we do, we will not be able to effectively confront it,” he says.
Suggesting that Ecuador needs the help of foreign governments and their law enforcement agencies, Gama says that almost 70% of 2023 murders in Ecuador were committed by foreigners, most of them Colombians. “This is an amazing number that has received far too little attention. It means we need to refocus our law enforcement approach on the borders and the back-and-forth flow of criminals.”
To solve the murder of Villavicencio, Gama says, foreign cooperation is required. “He was murdered because he threatened the cartels with an effective law enforcement plan. The men arrested in Quito are low-level thugs, paid killers, taking money and orders from people not only in Ecuador, but in Colombia and probably Mexico too.”