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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Six accused of killing Ecuadorian presidential candidate are found dead

By Genevieve Glatsky

The six Colombian men accused of killing an Ecuadorian presidential candidate were found dead in a prison in the port city of Guayaquil late last week, Ecuador’s prison authority said in a statement.

The assassination of the candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, as he exited a campaign event in August was a traumatic jolt for a nation that has been shaken by an increasingly powerful narco-trafficking industry in recent years.

As foreign drug mafias have joined forces with local prison and street gangs, they have transformed entire swaths of the country, extorting businesses, recruiting young people, infiltrating the government and killing those who investigate them.

Villavicencio, who had worked as a journalist, activist and legislator, was polling near the middle of a group of eight candidates when he was killed 11 days before the first round of the presidential election Aug. 20. He was among the most outspoken about the links between organized crime and the government.

The deaths of the six people accused in the assassination came eight days before a runoff election Oct. 15, pitting a center-right businessperson, Daniel Noboa, against an establishment leftist, Luisa González.

For some time, widespread speculation had suggested that the Colombians were guns for hire and that powerful figures had ordered the assassination. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the United States was offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the masterminds, and up to $1 million for information leading to any gang leader responsible.

Upon learning of the deaths of the men accused in the killing, President Guillermo Lasso said he would return to Ecuador from New York and would hold an immediate meeting of the security Cabinet.

“Neither complicity nor cover-up,” he wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “The truth will be known here.”

In its statement, the prison authority vowed to “identify those intellectually responsible for the crime against the former candidate.”

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