An Ecuadorian presidential candidate known for speaking up against corruption was shot and killed Wednesday at a political rally in the capital amid a wave of startling violence in the South American country.
President Guillermo Lasso confirmed the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio and suggested organized crime was behind his slaying. Villavicencio was one of eight candidates in the Aug. 20 presidential vote, though not the front-runner. The politician, 59, was the candidate for the Build Ecuador Movement.
“I assure you that this crime will not go unpunished,” Lasso said in a statement. “Organized crime has gone too far, but they will feel the full weight of the law.”
Ecuador’s attorney general’s office said a suspect in the assassination of Villavicencio died of wounds after being arrested by authorities.
Violence in Ecuador, a historically calm country, has surged in the past year as drug traffickers have flocked to the South American nation, resulting in a concerning uptick in drug trafficking, violent killings and child recruitment by gangs.
Videos on social media appear to show the candidate walking out of the event surrounded by guards. The video then shows Villavicencio entering a white truck followed by gunfire, information that was confirmed to the Associated Press by Patricio Zuquilanda, Villavicencio’s campaign adviser.
Zuquilanda said the candidate had received death threats before the shooting, which he had reported to authorities and resulted in one detention. He called on international authorities to take action against the violence, attributing it to rising violence and drug trafficking.
“The Ecuadorian people are crying and Ecuador is mortally wounded,” he said. “Politics cannot lead to the death of any member of society.”
His comments were echoed by other candidates who demanded action, with leading candidate Luisa Gonzalez of the Citizen Revolution party saying “when they touch one, they touch all of us.”
Another candidate and former vice president Otto Sonnenholzner, meanwhile, said in a news conference, “We are dying, drowning in a sea of tears and we do not deserve to live line this. We demand that you do something”.
Police confirmed that several others were injured, including officers, describing the incident as a terrorist act and promising to get to the bottom of the killing.
Villavicencio was one of the most critical voices against corruption, especially during the government of former president Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017. He filed many judicial complaints against high-ranking members of the Correa government, including against the ex-president himself.
He was married and is survived by five children.