How will the deaths of high-profile homicide suspects tip Ecuador’s election? | Elections Information


It was a second that plunged the Ecuadorian presidential race into chaos. As anticorruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio ducked right into a car on the finish of a marketing campaign rally, gunfire ripped via the gang, killing him mere days earlier than the primary spherical of voting.

Now, as Ecuador prepares for the pivotal second spherical on Sunday — a run-off vote that can determine the nation’s subsequent president — a recent volley of bloodshed has as soon as once more rattled the race.

On October 6, rumours started to unfold on-line that six of the suspects arrested in Villavicencio’s assassination had themselves been murdered behind bars.

“Might it not be that the federal government of [Ecuadorian President] Guillermo Lasso and the Ecuador Police need to disguise the reality of those occasions?” SOS Prisons Ecuador, a human rights nonprofit, posted on the social media platform X.

Hours later, the information was confirmed. Ecuador’s corrections company, the Nationwide Service for Consideration to Individuals Disadvantaged of Liberty, or SNAI, acknowledged the suspects’ deaths, which happened within the notorious Litoral Penitentiary, identified for its violence.

“All of the [imprisoned individuals] had been Colombian nationals and had been charged with the assassination of ex-presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio,” SNAI stated in its press release.

The next day, one other suspect within the Villavicencio taking pictures was discovered lifeless in El Inca jail in northern Quito. Of the group of suspects underneath investigation for the assassination, solely six stay alive.

The exact circumstances of the killings stay unknown. However consultants and sources near the case warned the suspects’ deaths may have wide-ranging implications for the way forward for politics in Ecuador.

“5 % of voters are extremely unpredictable,” pollster Omar Maluk advised Al Jazeera. “If something occurs, they alter their minds.”

The late presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio speaks throughout his closing rally within the capital Quito on August 9 [File: Karen Toro/Reuters]

A good election

Maluk believes the fallout from the seven killings may weigh closely on Sunday’s vote. The 2 candidates within the run-off election are in a lifeless warmth: left-wing candidate Luisa Gonzalez and centrist enterprise scion Daniel Noboa.

Noboa started the month with a slight lead over Gonzalez, Maluk defined, however the latter rebounded after the ultimate presidential debate aired earlier this month.

Now, Maluk sees the dynamics altering as soon as extra. “Noboa is rising, whereas Gonzalez slowly declines,” he stated. “It’s nonetheless a technical draw.”

However Gonzalez’s political mentor, former President Rafael Correa, has come underneath scrutiny since Villavicencio’s assassination on August 9.

A former journalist and politician, Villavicencio was a longtime critic of Correa, who ruled from 2007 to 2017. He launched complaints towards members of Correa’s authorities, and Correa filed a profitable lawsuit towards him, alleging defamation.

Correa, nevertheless, was convicted in 2020 on corruption-related prices. He has denied wrongdoing, dismissing the case as political persecution, and has since lived in exile in Belgium.

A man in a helmet and a white T-shirt raises a fist triumphantly from a podium while smiling.
Journalist Christian Zurita stepped in for the late Fernando Villavicencio as presidential candidate for the Movimiento Construye celebration [File: Henry Romero/Reuters]

Journalist Christian Zurita — who changed Villavicencio after his demise because the presidential candidate for the Movimiento Construye celebration — believes the August assassination could also be linked to that historical past of rigidity with Correa’s political motion.

He cited what he stated was an unreleased witness testimony in interviews with Al Jazeera and media shops in Ecuador, together with the newspaper El Universo.

“This man stated that the crime is linked to the federal government of former president Rafael Correa,” Zurita advised Al Jazeera. No proof has been offered publicly to substantiate this allegation. The witness gave his testimony to the general public authorities final Sunday, however his identification stays a secret.

Correa, in the meantime, issued a forceful rejection of the accusation on social media, calling it an try and derail Gonzalez’s marketing campaign.

“They made him accuse us on October 10, 5 days earlier than the elections,” Correa said of the alleged witness. “Something to impede our victory.”

Villavicencio had stated he acquired demise threats from cartels within the lead-up to his assassination. Crime has develop into a number one subject within the upcoming presidential run-off, with candidates sporting bulletproof vests to marketing campaign stops.

Ex-president Rafael Correa appears on large screens in front of a dark but crowded room, where some supporters wave flags.
Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa seems by way of video to help presidential candidate Luisa Gonzalez at an August rally [File: Henry Romero/Reuters]

A blow to the investigation

Within the wake of the seven suspects’ deaths, Zurita has additionally been vital of public authorities underneath the federal government of outgoing President Lasso.

“The state is finally accountable for the life and demise of those individuals. The secretary of prisons ought to have taken care of their safety,” Zurita advised Al Jazeera.

After the lethal assaults on the Villavicencio suspects, Lasso fired the director of Ecuador’s jail company and eliminated leaders within the nationwide police as effectively. He additionally transferred the remaining six suspects from the amenities the place they had been being held.

Ecuador’s public prosecutor additionally opened an investigation into the jail company SNAI for not complying with an order to switch the suspects to safer amenities.

However the suspects’ deaths have shaken public religion in whether or not justice will be served within the Villavicencio case.

The state of affairs “represents a significant issue”, lawyer Ricardo Vanegas advised Al Jazeera. The suspects “had been the one ones who knew who the instigators had been”.

An elderly man sits behind a privacy screen to fill in his election ballot.
Officers with Ecuador’s Nationwide Electoral Council have visited the houses of the aged and folks with disabilities to make sure they’ll vote in Sunday’s race [Karen Toro/Reuters]

Vanegas represents Villavicencio’s adopted daughter Cristina Villavicencio. He has been vocal about his perception that the investigation has been riddled with irregularities.

Proof has gone lacking, Vanegas has alleged, together with Villavicencio’s cell phone, which he stated was final seen in a well being care centre after the taking pictures.

“Fernando stated in radio and TV programmes that he had acquired threats from felony teams and politicians,” Vanegas stated. “The cell is due to this fact instrumental to determine who these persons are, nevertheless it has not been delivered but.”

“There have been many issues that don’t add up because the starting of the investigation,” stated Daniel Ponton, a professor of safety and defence at Ecuador’s Nationwide Institute for Increased Research. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the USA is at the moment aiding within the case.

As for Zurita, he speculated that the seven suspects had been killed to keep up their silence, in case they took a plea deal.

“In a authorized trial, they might have probably reached an settlement to cut back their conviction,” he alleged. “They had been murdered because of this.”

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