Officials claimed six suspects in the August assassination of Ecuador presidential candidate and anti-corruption campaigner Fernando Villavicencio were slain in prison on Friday.
Ecuador Presidential Candidate Murderers’ Death in Prison
The SNAI prisons authorities initially said “an event occurred” in Guayaquil’s Guayas 1 prison “resulting in six dead people.” The fatalities, according to a later statement, were “of Colombian nationality and accused of the murder of Ecuador presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.” Villavicencio, a 59-year-old journalist, was shot as he exited a Quito campaign rally a few days before the first round of voting. President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso declared he would handle the jail deaths as soon as he returned from a foreign trip.
Lasso was scheduled to attend trade negotiations in Seoul on Saturday after a personal trip to New York on Thursday. To manage the emergency, Lasso stated on X, formerly Twitter, that he would be returning to Ecuador in a few hours. The truth will come out and there is nothing to conceal. In response to the disruption that happened Friday afternoon, security measures were being carried out by public prosecutors, police, and military personnel. According to his statement on X, to seize control of the situation, professional military forces will launch the initial raids and reconnaissance of Cellblock 7, the source of the occurrences, in the next several hours.
Death of Prisoners Under Investigation
In Guayaquil, a major port city, rival drug-trafficking gangs are fighting brutal turf wars in five prisons. Guayas 1 is one of them. In late July, a Guayas 1 jail riot killed around 30 people. The death of Villavicencio, who was polling second, shook Ecuador days before national elections amid corruption and security concerns. Six Colombians with lengthy criminal backgrounds were apprehended shortly after, while a seventh was slain on the spot. Villavicencio investigated many cases, including exposing a massive bribery network that got former president Rafael Correa eight years in prison.
Correa has been in Belgium for six years following his escape from jail. With his outspokenness against cartels, many of whom operate out of Ecuadorian prisons, Villavicencio angered gangs and drug traffickers. Since 2021, warring gangs have killed over 430 detainees, dozens of them dismembered and burned. Dozens of guards were kidnapped at jails nationwide in late August and freed. Between 2018 and 2022, Ecuador’s street killings doubled to a record 26 per 100,000. That rate could reach 40 this year, say experts.
Ecuador was previously a tranquil sanctuary between Colombia and Peru, the world’s major cocaine producers. The war on drugs in other South American countries moved drug cartels to Ecuador, which has huge Pacific ports, lax controls, corruption, and a dollarized economy. The jail crisis is a major issue ahead of the October 15 second-round election between socialist lawyer Luisa Gonzalez and 35-year-old upstart Daniel Noboa.