Ecuadorean anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated at a rally on Wednesday, throwing the already unstable country into further turmoil less than two weeks before elections there.
Villavicencio was shot in the head during a campaign rally; police shot one suspect, who later died. Six other suspects were captured in police raids.
Nine others were wounded in the violence, including two police officers and a candidate for Congress. Current President Guillermo Lasso called his security council together and promised to bring Villavicencio's killer to justice.
Lasso blamed gang violence from drug cartels for the killing; Villavicencio had been a prominent journalist who reported on government corruption in the country from 2007-2017.
It was very possible that Villavicencio would have made it to a runoff in the election; he polled second in a field of eight candidates with 13.5%.
“This is a deadly blow to Ecuador’s democracy,” president of media advocacy organization Fundamedios Cesar Ricaurte said of the killing. “The mafias have committed a coup.”
After an oil boom that lifted many of its residents out of poverty, Ecuador in recent years has seen the rise of drug cartels operating in its borders, and warring cocaine cartels and organized crime have made murders skyrocket to some of the highest levels in the region.
The nation's leadership was already in turmoil after Lasso dissolved Congress to avoid impeachment. It was an allowable move under Ecuador's laws, but caused the need for a new election.
Law and order is at the top of the list of concerns going into the election, with many citizens favoring hard-line tactics like those of El Salvador's president Nayib Bukele, who rounded up tens of thousands of suspected gang members and drug traffickers in his country and became the most popular president in Latin America.
The mayor of Manta, Ecuador's second-largest port, was also assassinated last month.
“This is very tragic news,” managing director of fixed income at New York-based Alliance Global Partners Oren Barack said. “Ecuador had been moving forward with new elections and moving past the gridlock of the past administration. It will be crucial to see what details come to light in the coming days and weeks.”
While Ecuador's turmoil may not greatly impact world stability, it will nevertheless have an impact on the region and could lead to further destabilization.
A corrupt government and aggressive drug cartels and gangs would make the nation a powder keg and lead to further decline in living conditions for its residents.
If things get worse in Ecuador, it could lead to more illegal immigration into the U.S. as well.