Fernando Villavicencio, who was running for President in the upcoming election in Ecuador was assassinated at a campaign rally in Quito Wednesday in an escalation of violence and crime in the South American democracy.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso promised that the killing would not go unpunished, saying that “organized crime has come a long way, but the full weight of the law will fall on them.” Lasso announced a state of emergency for 60 days, an immediate mobilization of the armed forces across the country and three days of national mourning.
The election, scheduled for August 20, will go ahead as planned, the Electoral Council President Diana Atamaint said Thursday.
Opinion polls had put the deceased politician, who was also a journalist, in the middle of the pack of the eight candidates, far behind the frontrunner Luisa González.
A legislator in the National Assembly, Villavicencio had been outspoken about corruption and the violence caused by drug trafficking in the country, telling CNN En Español Conclusiones in May that Ecuador had become a “narco state” as he proposed to lead a fight against what he called the “political mafia.”
The suspected gunman died in police custody following an exchange of fire with security personnel, Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
It has launched an investigation into the attack, which injured nine people, including a candidate for the National Assembly and two police officers.
Later, the Ecuadorian Prosecutor’s Office said six people had been arrested during raids in Quito’s Conocoto and San Bartolo neighborhoods and that Villavicencio’s body had been transferred to a morgue for an autopsy.
He is one of the few candidates to allege links between organised crime and government officials in Ecuador.
A criminal gang called Los Lobos (The Wolves) has claimed responsibility.
The gang has been involved in a number of recent deadly prison fights, in which scores of inmates have been brutally killed.
Video circulating on social media appears to show the moment Villavicencio was fatally shot.
The slain politician’s sister Patricia Villavicencio attended the rally and said she was standing behind her brother before he was killed.
She told reporters outside the school that she held the national government and the Interior Ministry responsible for the death of her brother.
“Where is the security?” she asked.
Earlier this week, Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata said seven of the eight candidates, including Villavicencio, were under police protection, local media reported Tuesday.
President Lasso, who said he is “outraged and shocked” by Villavicencio’s killing, dissolved the opposition-led congress in May, paving the way for early elections.
The embattled Lasso had faced an impeachment vote over accusations from opposition legislators of embezzlement before he took office, which he denies. Calls for his resignation had grown louder in recent months as the country became engulfed by a cost-of-living crisis and high rates of criminal violence.
The killing follows the assassination of two mayors in Ecuadorean coastal towns in the last few weeks.
Sources: BBC, CNN, El Universo, news agencies.