The assassination of the presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, has caused unrest in Ecuador, on the eve of the elections. President Guillermo Lasso called the killing an attempt to undermine the democratic process and declared a 60-day state of emergency.
This measure includes the deployment of the army throughout the country in an effort to restore peace and security.
“We must stay united. Despite the defeat of a democrat and fighter, the election will not be suspended. On the contrary, they should be kept. We must strengthen democracy,” says Ecuador’s President, Guillermo Lasso.
The sudden and tragic killing of Mr. Villavicencio has fueled concerns about the security situation in Sunday’s elections. Many people believe that Mr. Villavicencio’s vocal stance against organized crime, drug cartels and corruption led to his assassination.
During the rallies, Mr. Villavicencio had told supporters that he had received death threats, as in a speech shortly before he was killed.
“You are my bulletproof vest. I don’t need one. You are brave and I am brave like you…They said they would kill me. I’m here!” he said.
Hours after Mr. Villavicencio’s murder, Ecuador’s attorney general’s office said the suspected murderer was killed in a shootout. The following day, police announced that they had arrested six Colombians, members of organized crime groups, who were suspected of having played a role in planning the murder.
Although the authorities moved quickly to arrest the suspects, Mr. Villavicencio’s lawyer, Luis Fernandez, criticized them for failing to provide adequate protection for the candidate and for failing to capture the suspected killer alive.
“What should have been done, and what would have been legal, was (for the suspect) to be offered help; to take him to the hospital to save him and to find the material evidence and the planners of this crime,” says Mr. Fernandez.
The people of Ecuador have expressed shock and anger at the murder and the increase in criminality.
“We are in the hands of narco-crime in this country… We cannot continue to live in this state of insecurity every day. We want peace in our country!” says Ms. Ida Paez, a supporter of candidate Villavicencio.
On social media, a criminal group calling itself “Los Lobos” claimed responsibility for Mr. Villavicencio’s murder, but another group, claiming to be the real “Los Lobos,” denied the veracity of this claim.
“We don’t cover our faces. No one speaks for us. To be clear, we have never killed government officials or civilians,” according to an unnamed spokesman for the group.
Meanwhile, seven presidential candidates took part in a debate, with extra security measures – one of them wearing a bulletproof vest. All spoke of the wave of violence in the country and insecurity as the main concern.
SOUNDBITE, Jan Topic, Kandidat presidencial
“We need to lead, equip and prepare all our law enforcement agencies and integrate intelligence resources,” says Jan Topic, presidential candidate.
“We will make Ecuador a state of peace and tranquility,” says another candidate, Ms. Luisa Gonzalez.
According to the presidential candidate, Otto Sonnenholzner, “we must stop people with a criminal past from entering the country.”
President Lasso has requested assistance from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has already arrived in Ecuador, to assist the authorities in the investigation.
With uncertainty reigning in Ecuador, the country’s residents are seeking justice and answers as they prepare for Sunday’s election.