Ecuador anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio shot dead before election

Assassinated Ecuadoran presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio
(Image credit: Rodrigo Buendia / AFP via Getty Images)

Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential candidate in Ecuador known for speaking out about corruption and the ties between organized crime and government officials, was shot dead after leaving a political rally Wednesday evening in Quito, the capital. President Guillermo Lasso blamed "organized crime" for the assassination, and assured the South American country "this crime will not go unpunished" and the parties responsible "will feel the full weight of the law."

When Villavicencio "stepped outside the door, he was met with gunfire," said Carlos Figueroa, a Villavicencio campaign worker. "There was nothing to be done, because they were shots to the head." He had received and reported several death threats, his campaign said.

Villavicencio, a 59-year-old former journalist and married father of five, was one of eight candidates running for president in an Aug. 20 election. He had been polling in the middle of the scrum. The other presidential candidates, including frontrunner Luisa González of the Citizen Revolution party, demanded action after the murder. "When they touch one of us, they touch all of us," she said.

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The election was triggered by Lasso's dissolution of the National Assembly in May, before the opposition-controlled legislature could hold impeachment hearings on embezzlement charges. Lasso is not a candidate in the Aug. 20 vote. Villavicencio had been a member of the Assembly from 2017 until Lasso dissolved it.

This was the first-ever assassination of a presidential candidate in Ecuador, "once a relatively safe nation" that "has been consumed by violence related to narco-trafficking in the last five years," The New York Times reported. Foreign drug mafias have joined forces with "local prison and street gangs, unleashing a wave of violence unlike anything in the country's recent history. Homicide rates are at record levels," and "the violence is often horrific and public, meant to induce fear and exert control."

The major of Manta, Agustín Intriago, was killed in July and Omar Menéndez, a mayoral candidate in Puerto Lopez, was killed in February, BBC News reported. Lasso declared states of emergency and night curfews in three provinces in July due to violence from organized crime. After Villavicencio's assassination, his Movimiento Construye party posted his comment following Intriago's murder: "Hiding in moments when criminals assassinate citizens and officials is an act of cowardice."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.