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Ecuador: Political leader shot dead less than a week after assassination of prominent presidential candidate

The 59-year-old Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent presidential candidate outspoken against corruption and cartel-fuelled violence, was assassinated last week, an incident that shook the South American nation.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Quito Published on: August 15, 2023 17:31 IST
Villavicencio's remains being carried by the Ecuadorian
Image Source : AP Villavicencio's remains being carried by the Ecuadorian police.

As drug-related violence continues to increase in Ecuador, political leader Pedro Briones was killed in a shooting incident, less than a week after the South American country was shaken by the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. Briones is the third political leader to be killed in the last four weeks.

Briones is a local leader of the Revolución Ciudadana party that was founded by former President Rafael Correa. His death in Esmeraldas province was confirmed by another presidential frontrunner Luisa González, who is a member of the same party.

"Ecuador is experiencing its bloodiest era. A heartfelt hug to the family of colleague Pedro Briones, fallen by the hands of violence," said González in a post on X, formerly Twitter. Authorities have not yet disclosed details of Briones' murder.

This comes after the assassination of the 59-year-old Villavicencio, who was one of the most critical voices against corruption, especially during the government of former President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017. He filed many judicial complaints against high-ranking members of the Correa government. 

A criminal gang called Los Lobos (The Wolves) has claimed responsibility for his assassination. Los Lobos is the second-largest gang in Ecuador with around 8,000 members, including many who are currently imprisoned. Six Colombian men have been ordered for preventive detention described by authorities as being suspected of involvement in Villavicencio's murder.

According to his campaign team, he was about to get into a car on Thursday when a man stepped forward and shot him in the head. Ecuador’s attorney general’s office said a suspect in the assassination of Villavicencio died of wounds after being arrested by authorities.

Prior to that, the mayor of Manta city, Agustín Intriago, was killed in a shooting on July 26. Intriago was recently re-elected to a term beginning from May. In February, the candidate for mayor in the city of Puerto Lopez was also assassinated in broad daylight.

Over three years, thousands of people have been killed as the cartel-aided local gangs are fighting for control of the streets, prisons and drug routes. Multiple media reports claimed that the growing presence of drug cartels in Ecuador has been a significant issue in the presidential campaign. These gangs have reportedly recruited children.

Meanwhile, González said that she plans to take a tough stance on crime once she is elected as President, along with cleaning up police forces, increasing control along the country’s borders, and investing in equipment for law enforcement. 

She also criticised the current government led by President Guillermo Lasso for lacking control inside detention facilities, which she said prisoners and organized crime have turned into their productive and recreational centers.

ALSO READ | Ecuador declares state of emergency after top Presidential candidate Villavicencio's assassination

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