Ecuador's presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio shot dead

Ecuador presidential candidate assassinated: Fernando Villavicencio is shot dead while leaving a political rally less than two weeks before the vote

  • Fernando Villavicencio, 59, was shot in the head on Wednesday night as he was getting into his car after a campaign rally in Quito
  • Villavicencio, a member of Ecuador’s National Assembly before it was dissolved in May, was one of the leading candidates for the August 20 vote
  • Analysts said the right-wing politician was the toughest on organized crime which plagues the Latin American nation 

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.

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. 

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.’

People are seen taking cover as gunshots were fired following a political rally in Quito on Wednesday

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 said he would host top security officials at an urgent meeting.

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. 

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.

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