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Shocking Ecuador assassination implicates foreign nationals

Foreign nationals from organized crime groups are suspected in the assassination of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. The shooting has caused shock and raised concerns about rising violence in the country.

Foreign nationals affiliated with organized crime groups are being identified as the primary suspects in the assassination of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, according to the government. The shocking incident, which occurred less than two weeks before the election, has had a profound impact on the South American nation, prompting some rivals to suspend their campaigns and bringing the issue of escalating violence to the forefront.

Villavicencio, a vocal critic of corruption and organized crime, was fatally shot while leaving an evening campaign event at an educational facility in northern Quito. One suspect involved in the crime later died from injuries sustained in a shootout, and six others have been arrested thus far, as confirmed by the attorney general's office. Additionally, nine individuals, including a candidate for the legislature and two police officers, were injured during the incident.

The government revealed that the deceased suspect had been previously arrested on weapons charges in July. Furthermore, the six individuals who were apprehended are all foreign nationals linked to organized crime groups, although further details regarding their identities were not provided. Interior Minister Juan Zapata stated that the national police have made the initial arrests of the alleged material perpetrators and will utilize all operational and investigative resources to uncover the motive behind the crime and identify the intellectual authors responsible.

President Guillermo Lasso asserted that the assassination was clearly an attempt to sabotage the upcoming election. However, he emphasized that the voting process would proceed as scheduled on August 20, albeit under a national state of emergency with heightened security measures implemented by the military.

Ecuador has witnessed a surge in violence in recent years, particularly in cities situated along drug-trafficking routes, such as Guayaquil and Esmeraldas, where residents claim to live in constant fear. Similar issues have been observed in several Latin American countries since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Villavicencio's political party, Movimiento Construye, released a statement on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), rejecting the "political use" of his death and urging a swift investigation into the incident. The party condemned an unverified video circulating on social media, allegedly from a gang called Los Lobos (The Wolves), which claimed responsibility for Villavicencio's assassination. The video also alleged that he had received millions of dollars from the gang for his campaign and threatened another candidate, Jan Topic. The authenticity and origin of the video remain unconfirmed, as neither the police nor the attorney general's office have commented on the matter.

Movimiento Construye held those who engage in negotiations with criminal organizations, grant them platforms, and propagate fear campaigns through deceptive videos responsible for the crime. Los Lobos reportedly boasts thousands of members and operates within Ecuador's violent prison system.

Former President Rafael Correa, who faced severe criticism from Villavicencio during his tenure as a journalist, reposted the video overnight but later declared it to be fake, without providing further details. Villavicencio had previously been sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation against Correa. However, he fled to Indigenous territory within Ecuador and later obtained asylum in Peru before returning following Correa's departure from office.

Correa, who currently resides in Belgium, proclaimed Ecuador to be a failed state and expressed hope that those who attempt to sow further hatred in the wake of this tragedy would comprehend that such actions only serve to further dismantle the nation.

Candidate Luisa Gonzalez, running for Correa's party and leading with 29.3% support, expressed horror at the assassination but did not suspend her campaign. In contrast, Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez and law-and-order advocate Jan Topic chose to suspend their campaigns, while businessman Otto Sonnenholzner implored the government to take decisive action.

Perez revealed that he had spoken with Sonnenholzner and three minor candidates, leaving messages for Gonzalez and Topic. Perez expressed his intention to convene a meeting involving the candidates and the Catholic Church to discuss a "national security agreement," although specific details were not disclosed.

On Wednesday, Villavicencio's party stated that discussions had taken place regarding the potential suspension of campaigning due to recent instances of political violence, including the murder of the mayor of Manta in July. However, Villavicencio opposed the idea, deeming it an act of cowardice.

The electoral court has announced that the party has the option to select another candidate. Nevertheless, with ballots already printed and distributed, Villavicencio's name and photo will appear on them.

Villavicencio, who was accompanied by three layers of security on the day of the incident, had filed a report with the attorney general's office regarding an oil business the day prior. However, no further details regarding the report have been disclosed.

According to police statistics, Ecuador has witnessed 3,500 violent deaths in the first half of this year, with nearly half occurring in Guayaquil, the country's largest city.

President Lasso, who called for early elections amid an impeachment attempt against him, has faced criticism for his inability to curb violence, despite implementing emergency powers that authorize soldiers to patrol the streets and use force against criminals.

The government attributes the ongoing bloodshed on the streets and in prisons to criminal rivalries for control over drug trafficking routes utilized by Mexican cartels, the Albanian mafia, and other criminal organizations.

In addition to security concerns, employment and migration are significant issues in the presidential race.

Villavicencio, a married father, garnered 7.5% support in polls, placing him fifth out of eight candidates.

The attorney general's office has announced that Villavicencio's body will be released to two individuals chosen by his wife, including his lawyer.

Numerous countries have condemned the assassination and called for a thorough investigation into the incident.

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