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Latam Brief: Ecuador presidential candidate assassinated (August 10, 2023)

Villavicencio speaks during a campaign event before he was shot to death. API/AP
Villavicencio speaks during a campaign event before he was shot to death. API/AP

Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was killed yesterday, leaving a campaign event in Quito.

Videos of the rally on social media appear to show Villavicencio walking out of the event surrounded by guards. The video then shows the candidate getting into a white pickup truck before gunshots are heard, followed by screams and commotion around the truck, reports the Associated Press.

President Guillermo Lasso said last night the Aug. 20 general elections will continue as planned, and declared a two-month state of emergency. Soldiers will guard polling stations, he said. Lasso called killing an assault on the country’s democracy.

The unprecedented snap elections scheduled for later this month have been focused on security issues. Ecuador is in the midst of a shocking surge in violent crime, as rival drug-trafficking gangs perpetrate prison massacres and murder rates have more than doubled between 2020 and 2022, reports the Guardian.

There were 3,500 violent deaths in Ecuador in the first half of the year, according to police figures, with nearly half occurring in the largest city, Guayaquil, reports Reuters.

It was the first assassination of a presidential candidate in Ecuador and came less than a month after the mayor of Manta, a port city, was fatally shot during a public appearance, reports the New York Times.

Days before his murder, Villavicencio had said on national television that he had received several death threats that he alleged came from the jailed leader of the Choneros gang, Alias Fito, ordering him to stop mentioning his name.

Villavicencio “had a long history in Ecuadorean public affairs, largely as an antagonist to those in power,” reports the New York Times. He was standing as a candidate for the Movimiento Construye political party in the presidential race. He was among several leading candidates, though he was not the front-runner, reports the Washington Post.

Villavicencio was a former union member at the state oil company Petroecuador and later a journalist who denounced alleged millions in oil contract losses, was a critical voice against corruption. Some of his work led to death threats and charges that were widely criticized as politically motivated. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation over statements made against then President Rafael Correa.

Soon after the killing, Correa issued a lament on social media: “They have assassinated Fernando Villavicencio … Ecuador has become a failed state.” (New York Times)

The Guardian has pictures of the attack and aftermath.

Villavicencio’s widow, Verónica Sarauz, accused her husband’s security team of failing to protect him and questioned why he was allowed to travel without an armored vehicle, reports the Washington Post.


  • Nature needs international financing, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said during the second day of an international Amazon summit, in which countries housing the rainforest have called on developed nations to support conservation efforts. (See yesterday’s post.)

  • Lula said the fledgling rainforest bloc had a simple message to those “rich countries” in the lead up to November’s Cop28 summit in Dubai: “If they want to effectively preserve what is left of the forests, they must spend money – not just to take care of the canopy of the trees but to take care of the people who live beneath that canopy and who want to work, to study and to eat and … to live decently.” (Guardian)

  • A new investigation by InSight Crime and Igarapé Institute traces the actors involved in environmental crimes and reveals the supply chains which support the looting of international border areas within the Amazon. “The nexus of drug and environmental crime in these two Amazon’s tri-border regions has brought together a volatile mix of criminal actors to a wilderness where the presence of law enforcement and the state are minimal. What little order that exists is often imposed at gunpoint by criminal groups.”


  • A series of factors have significantly improved Brazil’s political and economic outlook, could provide the domestic tranquility President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva needs to focus on his foreign policy agenda, writes Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly.


  • An 11-year-old girl was killed in a drive-by robbery while walking to school in Buenos Aires’ metropolitan region. The death has put public security even higher on the electoral agenda, a few days before Argentines vote in open primaries. Presidential candidates suspended campaign activities yesterday. (Guardian)


  • Santiago Peña assumes Paraguay’s presidency next week — with advantages that include a supportive Congress. Numerous challenges include party divisions, and managing the influence of his political mentor—businessman and former President Horacio Cartes—and handling international negotiations, from the Itaipú accord to U.S. sanctions against Paraguayan politicians, reports Americas Quarterly.


  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador doubled down on his long-standing battle with feminists, suggesting that criticism against him could be considered a form of gender-violence, reports the Guardian. The comments came after the country’s electoral watchdog ruled that the Mexican leader had made comments about a leading opposition figure which could be considered gender-based attacks.


  • The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled against the Barbados Court of Appeal in a landmark domestic abuse case. The court delivered a scathing rebuke to the Barbados magistrate who handled the woman’s plea for protection against her ex-partner with whom she shares a child, and Court of Appeal which upheld the the magistrate’s dismissal of her application. (Just Caribbean Updates)

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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