A candidate in Ecuador’s upcoming presidential election was assassinated with gunfire at a Wednesday evening political campaign rally.
Fernando Villavicencio, a 59-year old member of the country’s national assembly and renowned career political journalist, was murdered as he left the rally in the northern city of Quito.
The candidate’s campaign team told local media Villavicencio was killed while getting into a car. As he approached the vehicle, an unidentified man walked up and shot him at point blank range in the head three times.
President Guillermo Lasso said the “crime will not go unpunished.”
Investigators may have a difficult time uncovering a conspiracy however, since the suspect was shot by dead by security, according to Ecuador’s attorney general.
The first round of the South American country’s presidential election is scheduled to take place on August 20. Lasso will not appear on the ballot. He vowed not to run for reelection after utilizing the country’s emergency powers to establish law and order after a series of suspected attempts to overthrow his administration.
He said he was “outraged and shocked” by the killing, adding, “organized crime has come a long way, but the full weight of the law is going to fall on them.”
Villavicencio’s assassination comes amid a recent wave of violent crime pushed by Ecuadorian drug cartels, an issue that continues to emerge as a central issue in this year’s presidential campaign.
Mr. Lasso declared states of emergency and night curfews throughout July in three provinces after several murders were linked to organized crime.
Mr. Villavicencio’s campaign was focused on targeting corruption, a topic he covered avidly earlier in his career as a journalist. He was also a champion of preventing environmental destruction. He was one of eight candidates in the first round of the election.
Last week, he claimed his team was threatened by a gang linked to drug trafficking.
Villavicencio’s killing comes after two other politicians were killed earlier this year: Manta Mayor Agustín Intriago and Omar Menendez, a candidate for mayor in the city of Puerto López.
Former vice president and fellow candidate Otto Sonnenholzner sent his “deepest condolences and deep solidarity” to Mr. Villavicencio’s family. He is survived by a wife and five children.
“May God keep him in his glory,” he wrote. “Our country has gotten out of hand.”
Luisa Gonzales, currently the frontrunner in the upcoming presidential race also shared her “solidarity” to Villavicencio’s family, vowing that, “this vile act will not go unpunished.”