Ecuador’s Descent Into Chaos
Ecuador’s Descent Into Chaos
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 1 minutes

Ecuador’s Descent Into Chaos

Can an Election Salvage Latin America's Most Violent Country? 

On August 9, just 11 days before the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election, one of the leading candidates, Fernando Villavicencio, was gunned down as he left a campaign rally in the north of the capital. Even in a region of the world that has long struggled with organized crime and drug violence, high-level political assassinations have become rare; for Ecuador, a country that has in the past been known for its relative calm, the killing seems particularly shocking. Not since the run-up to Colombia’s 1990 election, when Medellín cartel boss Pablo Escobar held sway and four presidential candidates ended up dead, has a national political campaign been conducted under such a cloak of fear.

The possible motives of the killing, which was likely orchestrated by a criminal group averse to Villavicencio’s tough security approach, are not hard to discern. A former investigative journalist, Villavicencio had earned the enmity of former presidents and high state officials for taking on corruption and dirty dealings. He had helped unveil a secret state surveillance operation, as well as an electoral slush fund benefiting former President Rafael Correa’s political movement. And he was running a popular campaign for president on a pledge to save the country and “finish off the mafia.”

Nonetheless, the assassination was an astonishing statement of how far Ecuador has descended into lawlessness. Between 2020 and 2022, the country’s murder rate increased 245 percent. Over the course of this year, there have been a number of other political killings, including two candidates for the February local elections, as well as the mayor of Manta and a councilor in Durán, both on the Pacific seaboard. And the attacks have spread from the coastal cities, where the drug trade is concentrated, to the capital, with a car bombing shaking the heart of Quito in late August.

The full article can be read on Foreign Affairs' website.


Senior Director for Policy
Giustra Fellow, Latin America

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