FBI Team Joins Investigation Into Murder of Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Villavicencio

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
August 15, 2023World News
FBI Team Joins Investigation Into Murder of Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Villavicencio
Former Assembly member and then presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, greets supporters outside the Attorney General's Office in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on Aug. 8, 2023. Mr. Villavicencio was assassinated the next day. (Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)

A team of FBI agents dispatched to Ecuador has already met with local law enforcement as part of a joint effort to investigate last week’s assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.

The 59-year-old candidate was shot dead in broad daylight while leaving a campaign rally at a school stadium, less than two weeks before Ecuador’s elections, scheduled for Aug. 20.

Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso asked the FBI to help with the investigation on Aug. 10, one day after the murder.

“The assassination of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, an outspoken opponent of organized crime, is a brazen attack on democracy and the rule of law,” Brian Nichols, the assistant U.S. Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said via X (formerly Twitter) on Aug. 10. “We urge a swift and thorough investigation by the appropriate authorities and offer our support.”

On Aug. 13, Ecuadorian Interior Minister Juan Zapata told reporters that the FBI team had already spoken with police and would meet prosecutors from the attorney general’s office to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Columbian Suspects

The gunman who fired the shots died during the attack, and six suspects have since been arrested. According to a police report obtained by the Associated Press (AP), all suspects were Columbian nationals.

The South American country of 18 million has seen a sharp rise in violent crime at the hands of transnational drug cartels in recent years, a topic that has been a central issue in the presidential campaign.

Mr. Villavicencio was known as the hardline anti-corruption candidate. A week before the attack, he had received threats from the leader of Los Choneros, a local gang allegedly working for the Sinaloa cartel, which is currently at war with the Jalisco New Generation cartel for controlling drug production and trafficking in Ecuador.

Mr. Villavicencio began his career as a union member and later switched to journalism, gaining recognition for bringing government corruption to light. In 2015, he exposed Ecuador’s spying operations on journalists and political adversaries—including Julian Assange.

Mr. Villavicencio’s party, Construye (“Build”), announced on Sunday that it will now seek to have Christian Zurita approved the national electoral council as a replacement candidate instead of its vice presidential nominee.

Mr. Zurita is a journalist who collaborated with Mr. Villavicencio in the past and who seems equally fearless.

“We’re going to try to emulate his abilities and we’re going to try to emulate his name,” he said at a press conference, referring to Mr. Villavicencio. Like his former colleague, Mr. Zurita stressed that there will be no negotiations with “any mafia.”

In an operation overseen by 3,600 police and military officers, the gang leader of Los Choneros, José Adolfo Macías Villama—also known as Fito—was transferred to a maximum security prison on Aug. 13.

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