Ecuador reels after the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio. So what now? :NPR
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Ecuador has had little political violence. So far.
Who was it? Fernando Villavicencio, the 59-year-old Ecuadorian presidential candidate, was an investigative journalist who opposed what he saw as clear, increasing government corruption in his country.
- According to NPR’s Simeon Tegel, Villavicencio wanted to target drug trafficking and violence from cartels and gangs, as the once-peaceful country has been plagued by deadly prison riots and the presence of Mexican cartels within its borders.
What’s the big deal? Villavicencio was fatally shot on Wednesday, minutes after leaving a campaign rally in Quito, the country’s capital.
- Ecuador is then in a state of shock. President Guillermo Lasso declared a 60-day state of national emergency, and said he would move military forces into the streets to crack down on gangs.
- The presidential election is still scheduled for August 20, according to the head of the National Electoral Council Diana Atamaint. Villavicencio reportedly had a chance to finish second, according to polls, and could have sent the election to a runoff vote, Tegel reports.
- Villavicencio had previously drawn attention to the death threats he had been receiving, but made a point of refusing a bulletproof vest, and did not shy away from his sharp rhetoric towards victims -drug trafficking and corrupt government officials, who he says turned Ecuador. into a “narco state.”
- Villavicencio’s sister, Alexandra, has told reporters that she believes the Ecuadorian government is responsible for her brother’s death, and claims there is a larger plot to silence him.
Listen to the full conversation with Will Freeman by tapping the play button at the top.
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What are people saying? All things considered Juana Summers spoke with Will Freeman, fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He shared some insight into what caused this boiling point for Ecuador, and what may come in the coming months.
On the first response to the murder:
You already feel when you are there that life has been turned upside down by this huge increase in crime since 2020. But what you see now is that it is not it is based in one part of the country.
No one is safe, not even a candidate running for president. And I think that a growing number of Ecuadorians feel that they are almost abandoned by their own state institutions and left to fend for themselves. So it is a very cold event, and I hope that the following investigation will find the bottom of who or what structure was behind this.
On the rise in violence:
It’s a story that’s been building for a while. People watch homicide rates shoot up from 2020 and sometimes assume that’s where the crisis started. I would argue that it started years before that.
Ecuador has several characteristics that make it an ideal country for drug trafficking. And recently we have seen the amount of cocaine traffic across the country go through the roof.
So there is one that is connected between Colombia and Peru. Two of the biggest producers of cocaine in the world.
Ecuador also has a dollar economy that is very attractive to criminal organizations. It allows them to launder money easily. Ecuador also had a devastating experience with the COVID-19 pandemic and with poverty and hunger spreading, it created a large pool of soldiers for organized crime.
But on the other hand, this crisis is a collection of serious political mistakes by president after president. In the 2010s, you had a leftist populist president, Rafael Correa, who fought the police, kicked the DEA out of the country, and severely limited Ecuador’s ability to monitor narco-trafficking.
That set the stage for what we see today. But his conservative and centrist followers who have been in office since then did no better. Under their watch, they lost control of the prison system, the armed forces and the police and the judiciary all became more susceptible to corruption, to collusion with organized crime.
And unfortunately, what you see today is polarization between left and right, which prevents Ecuadorian politicians from coming together and solving this terrible crisis.
So what now?
- President Lasso has asked for help from the FBI in investigating the murder, and announced three days of mourning after Villavicencio’s death.
- Freeman says that amid new details being reported about the murder, the true nature of Villavicencio’s death will be crucial in determining the next steps: “I think we have to get to the bottom of the It’s a political story that could be behind this murder.”