Neighbors Ecuador and Colombia Each Continue to Confront Tragic Realities After the Assassination of Fernando Villavicencio
Last month, in a turbulent, unstable atmosphere following the assassination of candidate Fernando Villavicencio, the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election were held on August 20.
Luisa González Alcívar, a left-wing protege of former President Rafeal Correa, received the largest share of the ballots, but because she fell short of the necessary 50% of the vote required to win the election, Ecuadorians will head back to the polls to elect their next president in the second round runoff on October 15.
Photo: Fernando Villavicencio attending a session of the National Assembly of Ecuador in 2022. (Credit: Asamblea Nacional del Ecuador)
Ecuador’s next president will be one of González or her opponent Daniel Noboa, a 35-year-old centrist businessman whose family made its fortune in the banana industry. This mark’s Noboa’s fifth time running to be president.
Whatever the result in October, its neighboring country will remain infamously tied to the election, which took place while authorities in Ecuador and Colombia continued investigating the murder of Fernando of the 59-year-old Villavicencio, a corruption-fighting journalist who was shot three times in the head in the center of Quito at the end of a political rally on August 9.
The alleged shooter, a Colombian from Cali named José Néider López, aka “Hito,” who was killed after confronting shots with the police who were chasing him, according to Ecuadorian officials, had a criminal record in his home nation, including the alleged illegal possession of weapons and homicide.
The attorney general’s office in Ecuador announced the arrest of other Colombian suspects allegedly involved in the attempt as well. The names of the six others who have been detained are: Andrés M., José N., Adey G., Camilo R., Jules C. y Jhon R.
The prosecutors said that they found weapons apparently used in the attack, including a submachine gun, several rifles, four pistols, three grenades, four boxes of ammunition, and two rifle magazines. Two motorcycles were also seized.
Sources in the Cali regional office of the Colombian attorney general confirmed to Finance Colombia that the head office in Bogotá was in charge of the case, but said there is no available information yet about the status of the probe.
Ongoing Controversy Across Two Andean Nations
For Colombians, the ongoing controversy marks yet another unwelcome inclusion in a foreign political tragedy. When the news broke, it was reminiscent to some of the involvement of Colombian citizens in the 2021 assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse.
As is commonplace in the nation’s current climate, the killing of Villavicencio has led to ongoing accusations from both sides of the political spectrum, with spurious claims of ties to Colombian President Gustavo Petro and ongoing denouncements of how paramilitary violence contributes to a culture of murder-for-hire.
In Ecuador, the situation continues to grow even more tense for current President Guillermo Lasso, who was facing an impeachment process led by the opposition forces accusing him of embezzling public funds before he opted to activate the so-called “Death Cross Decree,” a constitutional procedure in place since 2008 that allows the president to dissolve the National Legislative Assembly and call for new elections.
Meanwhile, critics have condemned Rafael Correa who publicly fought back with hostile words for Villavicencio, an outspoken critic of the ex-president in exile. On Twitter, Correa called the since-assassinated rival “a shameless coward.”
Beyond the presidential palace, the party that Villavicencio represented, Construye, also recently filed a formal complaint denouncing Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE), asserting that it should have delayed the August 20 election and saying the body has “damaged democracy from start to finish.”
Ecuador Continues Its Fall into Increased Violence
Ecuador closed last year with the highest homicide rate in its history: 26.7 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This figure — which exceeds the rates seen in both Colombia and Mexico — highlights the stark reality that a nation formerly seen as the safest in this part of South America, with a tourist paradise in the Galapagos, has suffered a shocking fall into violence.
As noted by the Telegraph, the 2022 homicide rate was more than four times as high as the 5.8 killings per 100,000 citizens recorded in 2008.
Drug trafficking has become a prime driver of death, as detailed by El Pais, in a country located between Colombia and Perú, the two major coca leaf producers in the world. This publication notes that Ecuador has become a logistics platform for some of the region’s largest transnational crime organizations after largely avoiding that fate until recent years.
The problem has grown significantly worse since Covid-19 hit the region. “The coronavirus pandemic, during which schools in Latin America were closed for longer than in any other region of the world, was a boon to cartels: they recruited economically vulnerable youth, which may have contributed to the expansion of some groups,” wrote the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in a recent analysis. “Furthermore, the country has used the U.S. dollar as its currency since 2000, which makes the country attractive for money launderers.”
Political Violence Shocks Ecuador Throughout 2023
While the Villavicencio assassination was the highest profile killing yet, this was just the latest in a series of shocking and alarming political deaths.
Earlier this year on January 21, a candidate for mayor in the coastal city of Salinas, Julio César Farachio, died from the bullets of motorcycle hitmen on the day of a campaign rally.
On February 4, Omar Menéndez, who was running for Mayor of Puerto López, was killed in his living room a few hours before election day. After his death, the result of the vote showed him as the winner.
While inside a car in popular tourist destination Esmeraldas on the night of July 16, Rider Sánchez, a candidate for the National Assembly, was shot three times, including a bullet to the head. The politician was reportedly assaulted by three individuals, and when he tried to start the vehicle, the killers fired at him.
Agustín Intriago, the mayor of Manta, a city located on Ecuador’s coast, was shot dead on July 23 while he was inspecting civil works. Reports mentioned that the mayor was ambushed by criminals who cornered him before turning their weapons on him.
The last crime was Pedro Briones’ murder, which occurred just a few days after Villavicencio’s assassination. He was killed in Esmeraldas, the same location where Rider Sánchez was murdered, on August 14.
As the nation heads back to the ballot box in October, all of this bloodshed — and a hope for solutions to curtail the violence — will be front of mind for many Ecuadorians.