QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — An Ecuadorian presidential candidate known for speaking out against corruption was shot dead at a political rally in the capital on Wednesday amid a spate of appalling violence in the South American country.
President Guillermo Lasso confirmed the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio and suspected organized crime was behind his assassination. Villavicencio was one of eight candidates in the August 20 presidential election, though not the top candidate. The 59-year-old politician was the candidate of the Build Ecuador Movement.
“I assure you this crime will not go unpunished,” Lasso said in a statement. “Organized crime has gone too far, but it will feel the full force of the law.”
Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office said a suspect in the Villavicencio attack died of his injuries after he was arrested by authorities.
Violence in Ecuador, a historically quiet country, has increased over the past year as drug traffickers flocked to the South American country, leading to a worrying rise in drug trafficking, violent killings and gang recruitment of children.
Videos on social media appear to show the contestant exiting the event surrounded by guards. The video then shows Villavicencio getting into a white truck, followed by gunfire, information confirmed to the Associated Press by Patricio Zuquilanda, Villavicencio’s campaign adviser.
Zuquilanda said the candidate received death threats before the shooting, which he reported to authorities, which led to an arrest. He called on the international authorities to take action against the violence, attributing it to increasing violence and drug trafficking.
“The Ecuadorian people are crying and Ecuador is mortally wounded,” he said. “Politics cannot lead to the death of a member of society.”
Police confirmed that several other people, including officers, were injured. She described the incident as a terrorist attack and promised to get to the bottom of the murder.
Villavicencio was one of the most critical voices against corruption, particularly during the government of former President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017. He filed numerous lawsuits against senior members of the Correa government, including the ex-President himself.
His comments were echoed by other candidates calling for action, with lead candidate Luisa González of the Civic Revolution party saying, “If they touch one, they touch everything.”
Another candidate and former Vice President, Otto Sonnenholzner, meanwhile said in a press conference: “We are dying, drowning in a sea of tears and we do not deserve to live like this.” We demand that you do something.”
He was married and leaves five children.