Ecuador presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio assassinated at campaign event

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Quito, Ecuador

A candidate in Ecuador’s upcoming presidential election, Fernando Villavicencio, was assassinated at a campaign event Wednesday, President Guillermo Lasso confirmed on social media, vowing the killing will not go unpunished.

Villavicencio was shot dead at a Movimiento Construye political rally at a school north of the capital Quito, campaign team members Cristian Zurita and Rodrigo Figueroa told CNN.

He was gunned down 10 days before the first round of the presidential election was set to take place on August 20.

Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office said the suspected gunman died in police custody following an exchange of fire with security personnel.

The suspect “was apprehended and transferred to the [Judicial Unit] in Quito. An ambulance from the Fire Department confirmed his death. The Ecuador Police is proceeding with the removal of the corpse,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Nine people were injured in the attack, including a candidate for assembly and two police officers, it added.

An investigation into the assassination has been launched, the Attorney General’s office said.

The moment Villavicencio was shot appears to have been captured on video circulating on social media.

The footage appears to show Villavicencio walking away from the campaign rally toward a vehicle surrounded by several police officers and a crowd of onlookers. As he gets into the backseat of the vehicle, at least 12 gunshots can be heard. A policeman quickly closes the door behind Villavicencio and many people are seen taking cover from the gunfire, including his security detail.

President Lasso said he is “outraged and shocked” by Villavicencio’s killing.

“My solidarity and condolences to his wife and his daughters. For his memory and his fight, I assure you that this crime will not go unpunished,” Lasso said on X.

The President said he had called an urgent meeting of his security cabinet to discuss the assassination.

“Organized crime has come a long way, but the full weight of the law will fall on them,” Lasso said.

CNN has asked authorities for more details.

Seven of the eight presidential candidates, including Villavicencio, were under police protection, Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata said earlier this week, local media reported Tuesday.

Villavicencio was a legislator in the country’s National Assembly before it was dissolved by Lasso in May, leading to early elections.

Lasso had faced an impeachment vote over accusations from opposition legislators of embezzlement before he took office, which he denies.

The assassination comes as Ecuador struggles with a deteriorating security crisis that has seen a deadly escalation of violence and crime fueled by drug trafficking and a turf war between rival criminal organizations.

Once known as the “isla de paz” – an island of peace – the Andean country has in recent years reported some of the highest homicide rates in the region.

Though Ecuador has no history of producing cocaine, nor its main ingredient coca, it is sandwiched between the two largest narcotics production hotspots in the world: Peru and Colombia.

Ecuador has become an integral part in the lucrative cocaine trafficking routes from South America to North America and Europe, according to security experts. And violence has been most pronounced on the country’s Pacific coast as criminal groups battle to control and distribute illicit drugs.

The country has also lost control of its prisons, which are often ruled by criminal gangs. Security forces have struggled to confront the gangs inside overcrowded prisons, where inmates often take control of branches of the penitentiaries and run criminal networks from behind bars, according to Ecuadorian authorities. Hundreds of inmates have been killed in brutal prison riots between rival gangs.

In July, the mayor of the port city of Manta, Agustin Intriago, was shot dead alongside Ariana Chancay, a young athlete he was talking with on the street.

The violence and economic insecurity are leading more Ecuadorians to leave the country, with statistics showing thousands making their way north through the treacherous Darien Gap this year, with hopes to make it to the United States.

All the candidates in the country’s presidential election have pledged to rein in the escalation of violence.

In an interview with CNN En Español Conclusiones in May, Villavicencio addressed the violence caused by drug trafficking in the country, saying Ecuador had become a “narco state.”

He proposed to restore security with the armed forces and the police in the streets and lead a fight against what he called the “political mafia.”


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