Gunmen in Ecuador shot dead presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio as he was leaving a rally on Wednesday night, with less than two weeks to go until a bitterly contested election.
Footage shared on social media showed Villavicencio, 59, being escorted out of the rally venue at 6:20pm local time and into a waiting car. He was climbing into the back seat when gunfire rang out. The windows did not appear to be bulletproof.
One suspect was shot dead in crossfire with security services, the country’s attorney general said, adding that nine people were injured – among them a female candidate for the National Assembly and two police officers.
Last week Villavicencio, a former journalist known for tackling corruption, said he and his team had been threatened by the leader of a gang linked to drug trafficking.
In May, announcing his candidacy, he declared that he intended to ‘take on and defeat the mafias which have coopted the state and have society on its knees.’
He was behind at least two other candidates, but had been gaining support in recent days, and was seen as the toughest candidate on organized crime.
General Manuel Iniguez, a deputy commander of the Ecuadoran national police, said a police officer was also injured in the attack, which happened outside a college in the north of Quito. The hit men launched a grenade toward Villavicencio’s group, but it did not explode.
He was taken to a nearby clinic and pronounced dead in hospital. Shocking video showed the moment he arrived, slumped in a wheelchair and pushed by men in army fatigues. They tried to lift him out the wheelchair and up the steps but were unable to do so, and wheeled him up the ramp as a medical employee rushed out.
Fernando Villavicencio, 59, is seen moments before gunmen ambushed him on leaving a rally and shot him in the head
The former journalist is seen speaking at the rally on Wednesday evening shortly before his murder
Villavicencio said last week that he and his team had been threatened by a drug trafficking gang. He is pictured at the rally on Wednesday
Villavicencio, a right-wing former member of Ecuador’s National Assembly before it was dissolved in May, had been polling at 7.5 percent.
Galo Valencia, the uncle of Villavicencio, confirmed that the politician was shot in the head.
‘We were a few meters outside the college gates, and as we were leaving there was a barrage of 40 bullets,’ he told El Comercio.
‘Some people were injured, some of them maybe seriously, and Fernando unfortunately was shot in the head.
‘The medical team have just confirmed that he has died. It’s an indescribable pain for the family.’
Police found a suspicious device outside the college, and carried out a controlled explosion.
One woman appeared to be seriously injured in the shooting, and was carried back inside
People are seen taking cover as gunshots were fired following a political rally in Quito on Wednesday
People ran for cover on Wednesday evening as the shots were fired
Terrified rally attendees rushed back into the college as gunshots rang out
A view of a controlled explosion of an explosive device left outside the rally site
Ecuador’s president on Wednesday evening tweeted a photo of their emergency meeting
President Guillermo Lasso, who was at the premier of the film Sound of Freedom when he learnt of Villavicencio’s killing and was hurried out, said the murder will not go unpunished.
‘For his memory and his fight, I assure you that this crime will not remain unpunished,’ tweeted Lasso.
‘Organized crime have gone very far, but all the weight of the law will fall on them.’
Lasso’s office later tweeted a photo of his top security officials at an urgent meeting.
‘Now: the president Guillermo Lasso, the Security Cabinet, the authorities of justice and the electoral system meet in the Palace of Carondelet.
‘The assassination of the candidate for the presidency, Fernando Villavicencio, and the decisions that will be made in the next few hours are being discussed.’
His killing follows that of the mayor of the port city of Manta, Agustin Intriago, in July.
In February, the mayoral candidate for the city of Puerto Lopez, Omar Menendez, was murdered.
Villavicencio, from the Andean province of Chimborazo, was the candidate for the Build Ecuador Movement.
Emergency service workers and police are seen on Wednesday outside the hospital where Villavicencio was taken
The union leader, journalist and politician was pronounced dead in hospital
Police are seen outside the hospital in the north of Quito
Villavicencio, pictured on Tuesday, was a former union member at the state oil company who became a journalist exposing corruption in the industry
The father of five was known as a thorn in the side of corrupt companies and politicians
He was a former union member at state oil company Petroecuador and later a journalist who denounced alleged millions in oil contract losses.
Villavicencio was one of the most critical voices against corruption, especially during the government of former president Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation over statements made against the former president.
He fled to Indigenous territory within Ecuador and later was given asylum in Peru.
As a legislator, Villavicencio was criticized by opposition politicians for obstructing an impeachment process this year against Lasso, which led the latter to call the early elections.
Lasso, who was at risk of being impeached when he dissolved the National Assembly and called the elections, said at the end of May that he would not run for re-election.
The legislature had been considering Lasso’s impeachment over allegations he had ignored warnings of embezzlement relating to a contract with state-owned oil transportation company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana (FLOPEC).
Lasso, a conservative former banker, was elected in 2021 on a business-friendly platform and clashed from the start with the left-leaning majority coalition in the 137-member National Assembly.
He has also failed to control surging violence.
For decades, Ecuador was one of Latin America’s least violent countries. Now it has the region’s fourth-highest homicide rate, with the level higher even than Mexico.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12391513/Ecuadors-presidential-candidate-assassinated-Fernando-Villavicencio-shot-dead-leaving-political-rally-two-weeks-vote.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Ecuador presidential candidate assassinated: Fernando Villavicencio is shot dead while leaving a political rally less than two weeks before the vote