QUITO: Ecuador was underneath a state of emergency Thursday after the assassination of a preferred presidential candidate simply days earlier than an election dominated by considerations over the once-peaceful nation’s descent into brutal violence linked to drug trafficking.
Fernando Villavicencio, a 59-year-old journalist and anti-corruption crusader, was killed in a hail of machine gun fireplace as he left a marketing campaign rally within the capital Quito.
His supporters sprinted away or threw themselves to the ground because the pictures rang out within the newest episode of surprising violence within the South American nation, which has seen its homicide fee soar amid bloody turf wars between drug gangs.
Villavicencio had complained of receiving threats, which have additionally focused electoral officers in a tense marketing campaign forward of the snap election on August 20. A preferred mayor and aspiring lawmaker have additionally been assassinated in current weeks.
President Guillermo Lasso declared a two-month state of emergency, which is able to enable troopers to patrol the streets. He had already in July declared focused states of emergency in some cities gripped by violence.
In a social media put up, he stated he was “outraged and shocked” by the killing he blamed on “organized crime.”
“This crime will not go unpunished,” stated Lasso.
Lasso additionally declared three days of nationwide mourning, and different presidential candidates suspended their campaigns.
“This is a political crime … and we do not doubt that this murder is an attempt to sabotage the electoral process,” stated Lasso.
Lasso, who took workplace in 2021, referred to as the snap election after he dissolved the opposition-dominated Congress in Might to keep away from an impeachment trial. He isn’t searching for reelection.
Villavicencio was the second hottest of eight candidates within the presidential race, based on current opinion polls.
The US condemned a “brazen act of violence and assault on Ecuador’s democracy.”
The European Union’s international coverage chief Josep Borrell stated the bloc “stands with Ecuador in its fight against the worsening violence by organized crime.”
‘They ambushed him’
Villavicencio was a fierce anti-corruption crusader, whose journalistic investigations uncovered an unlimited graft community which led to former president Rafael Correa being sentenced to eight years in jail.
In an election marketing campaign dominated by anxieties over safety, he had pledged to construct a most safety jail within the Amazon to take care of the nation’s rise in violence.
Carlos Figueroa, a buddy of Villavicencio who was with him on the time of the assault, informed native media that the assailants fired round 30 pictures.
“They ambushed him outside” the sports activities heart the place the rally was going down, Figueroa stated. “Some (of those present) even thought they were fireworks.”
The nation’s primary newspaper, El Universo, reported that Villavicencio was assassinated “hitman-style and with three shots to the head.”
9 different folks had been injured within the assault, together with a candidate operating for the nationwide legislature and two policemen, prosecutors stated.
One of many alleged attackers was shot and killed by safety personnel, and 6 folks have been arrested.
A video of a bunch of armed males, hooded and wearing black, circulated on the web, with the lads claiming duty for the assassination — with out mentioning Villavicencio — and claiming to be from the Los Lobos gang.
Its origin couldn’t be verified by AFP, and safety specialists warned it might be an effort to control the small print of the crime.
‘Very damage and really nervous’
Nationwide Court docket of Justice president Ivan Saquicela referred to as Villavicencio’s homicide “very painful for the country.”
“I am very hurt and very worried about Ecuador,” he stated.
In September final yr, america listed Ecuador among the many prime 22 drug-producing or transit international locations on the earth.
Ecuador shouldn’t be identified to have massive plantations of drug crops or laboratories for refining cocaine.
As a substitute, the nation — wedged between main cocaine producers Colombia and Peru — has develop into a staging floor for international mafia, upping the stakes for native gangs who’re brutally killing one another as they search management of drug routes.
Its main port Guayaquil, from the place a lot of the medication are shipped overseas — typically in containers of bananas or in authorized shipments by entrance firms — is seen as having weaker controls.
In 2022, Ecuador’s homicide fee nearly doubled in comparison with the earlier yr to 25 per 100,000, a determine specialists say will enhance to 40 this yr.
The nation has seized about 530 tons of narcotics since 2021, based on official figures. Jail violence between gangs has left greater than 430 useless in the identical interval, based on an AFP depend.