Ecuador has dispatched 4,000 personnel from its armed forces and police to the Zonal 8 Detention Center in Guayas province – two days after declaring a state of emergency in the wake of the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.
The deployment is intended to “establish control over weapons, ammunition and explosives within the prison,” the Ecuadorian Army Command said in a statement.
The deployment comprises of 2,000 military members and 2,000 police officers, it said.
Among the people currently incarcerated in the prison is José Adolfo Macías Villamar, more popularly known by his alias “Fito,” who was jailed after being convicted of drug trafficking. Images released by the armed forces on Saturday showed Macías being restrained and searched inside the facility.
In the lead-up to his assassination, Villavicencio – a former journalist – had said in a televised interview on July 31 that he had been threatened by Macías and been warned against continuing with his campaign for the leadership.
Villavicencio, an anti-corruption campaigner and lawmaker, had previously been outspoken about gang violence caused by drug trafficking in Ecuador.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso announced Saturday that Macías would be relocated to the La Roca maximum security prison after drugs, weapons, ammunition and explosives were found.
The Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that it had “opened an investigation and other dangerous prisoners will be transferred.”.
Authorities have not yet announced any confirmed links between Macías or his gangs to Villavicencio’s assassination. Macías and his gang members have not yet publicly commented on the assassination.
Villavicencio’s assassination prompted an outpouring of condemnation from inside Ecuador and around the world. It came just 10 days before the first round of the presidential election was set to take place.
Authorities on Thursday said they had arrested six suspects, all Colombian nationals and gang members, in connection with Villavicencio’s assassination.
The 59-year-old was laid to rest in a private ceremony which took place at the Monteolivo cemetery in northern Quito on Friday, his campaign team confirmed to CNN affiliate CNN en Español.
His widow Veronica Sarauz has blamed the state for her husband’s murder and demanded answers as to why it happened.
“They did not protect him as they should have protected him,” Sarauz told a news conference on Saturday.
“The state was in charge of Fernando’s security. The state is directly responsible for the murder of my husband.”
“The state still has to give many answers about everything that happened. His personal guards did not do their job,” she said.
She also expressed disagreement with his Movimiento Construye Party’s decision to nominate Villavicencio’s former running mate Andrea González Náder as its new presidential candidate.
Náder was seen wearing a bulletproof vest at a candidacy acceptance ceremony in the capital on Friday.
The party announced Náder as its new candidate in a message on X, previously known as Twitter, on Saturday.
“Náder was chosen by Fernando Villavicencio and the Movimiento Construye as the designated successor to step in as president in the event of his absence,” it said in a statement.
The party also said it would announce its new vice-presidential candidate shortly. It said that person would be selected “from among the most trusted people who shared the struggles of our comrade Fernando Villavicencio.”
The first round of Ecuador’s presidential elections is scheduled to be held on August 20.