The Assassination Of Fernando Villavicencio

On August 16th, Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was fatally shot after a campaign rally. His assassination came 10 days before the first round of elections. According to CNN, Villavicencio ran on an anti-corruption platform and promised to crack down on drug trafficking, gang violence and crime. Six Colombian nationals were arrested following the assassination, with one of the perpetrators dying in police custody following a gun fight. It is believed the assassins were acting on behalf of drug cartels, which are threatened by Villavicencio’s opposition to organized crime. Villavicencio’s wife condemned the federal government for not providing proper security for the presidential candidate. 

Ecuador has historically been relatively stable and free from pervasive organized crime. However, in recent years drug cartels from Peru and Colombia – the two biggest producers of Cocaine in the world – have been using Ecuadorian ports to export drugs to the U.S. and Europe. According to the Washington Post, due to the rising influence of Peru and Colombia in Ecuador, the homicide rate has increased by 300 percent in the last five years. The sitting president, Guillermo Lasso, has been critiqued for not properly addressing the rising gang violence and the cost of living crisis in the country. Because the crime rate has increased so rapidly, many of the prisons have become overfilled, making the containment of crime a difficult endeavour. Furthermore, CNN reports that gangs have become so powerful that they run certain prisons and use them as bases to run drug operations. Violence between rival gangs has made Ecuador a dangerous place.

The assassination of Villavicencio displays a faltering democracy and limited state power. The inability of the federal government to protect political candidates will severely undermine Ecuador’s election process. Now that Villavicencio was murdered, other candidates are likely to downplay Ecuador’s organized crime problem out of fear for their safety. The violence currently present in Ecuador severely limits people’s ability to express their opinions in a transparent way, which is necessary for a functioning democracy. Furthermore, the immense power of the drug cartels will make it more difficult for the federal government to implement policies to address economic grievances, which will likely exacerbate the problem more. 

According to CNN, in response to the assassination President Lasso requested the assistance of the FBI to investigate the crime and aid in counter-cartel operations. Also, Lasso announced a state of emergency for 60 days, mobilized the armed forces around the country and implemented a three day national mourning. While it is unclear if these measures will be effective in countering organized crime, it is reassuring that action is being taken to address the violence. Besides an increased security apparatus, the Lasso administration should seek to collaborate with NGOs to improve living conditions within the country. Economic grievances often fuel organized crime as people lack other opportunities to provide for themselves. 

Regardless of Lasso’s measures, the strategy of countering gang violence will likely change depending on who wins the presidential bid. The Associated Press reports that Lasso will not be seeking reelection following disbanded impeachment proceedings inquiring on an alleged embezzlement scheme. While there is not a definitive winner yet, Luisa Gonzalez is currently leading the polls and has a high probability of becoming the next president. According to CNN, Gonzalez is a leftist candidate who aims to increase social programs and combat violence by addressing poverty. Her focus on economic conditions has made her very popular among Ecuadorians, who are currently experiencing a cost-of-living crisis.