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Supporters, family mourn assassinated Ecuador candidate Villavicencio

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QUITO, Ecuador – Supporters of assassinated Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio gathered at a public memorial event in Quito on Friday, while his family held a mass at the cemetery where he will be buried.

Villavicencio, a former lawmaker and crusading anti-corruption journalist, was gunned down as he left a campaign event on Wednesday evening, less than two weeks before the election.

Amid a tide of rising violence and crime in the South American country, the murder has led some Ecuadoreans to weigh whether they will vote on Aug. 20 and has made an unsettled election even harder to forecast.

Villavicencio’s party Construye held a large event at Quito’s convention center, where his vice-presidential candidate Andrea Gonzalez spoke while wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Meanwhile, Villavicencio’s family held a 100-person mass at a chapel at the Monte Olivo cemetery in the north of city, accompanied by heavily-armed police.

“My son left a legacy of struggle, of transparency, of sacrifice,” Villavicencio’s mother, Gloria Valencia, told attendees. “All this struggle and all that he did – I hope it will not be merchandise used by others.”

The coffin was loaded into a hearse to chants of “Fernando lives forever!”

Six suspects – all Colombians who police have said belong to criminal groups – were charged with murder and were remanded in custody for 30 days by a judge late on Thursday, the attorney general’s office said on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.

According to charging documents uploaded to the justice system’s website, all six were also charged with illicit trafficking of substances.

Two of the men had been previously charged, on July 5, with reception of stolen goods, according to documents on the website.

All the men had previous criminal records in Ecuador and Colombia, an Ecuadorean police spokesperson said.

A search of the public records database run by the Colombian police listed three of the men as having no criminal record, while the remaining three were listed as “currently not required by any judicial authority.”

One other suspect in the crime died from wounds sustained in a shootout with authorities on Wednesday.

‘Who hired them?’

As a labor organizer and then a journalist, Villavicencio had long been exposed to threats due to his scathing and meticulously documented corruption accusations targeting some of the biggest names in Ecuador’s political and financial establishment.

Villavicencio’s wife Veronica Sarauz said she had not yet met with authorities to discuss why his security protection failed.

“He was aware that the threats against him were real,” Sarauz told Colombia’s Caracol Radio.

“We know they are the material authors,” she said of the six charged men. “But we need to know who the intellectual authors are. Who hired them?”

The government has said it is investigating who is behind the murder and has promised heightened security nationwide to ensure peaceful elections.

Villavicencio died from cranial trauma, hemorrhage and cerebral laceration caused by a bullet, an autopsy quoted in the charging documents said. He also suffered a cranial fracture.

“I’m here to give the final goodbye to our president,” supporter Lola Alvarez told Reuters earlier on Friday outside a private wake held by Villavicencio’s family.

“Fernando Villavicencio was a leader, who with proof in his hands, denounced all the mafias of Ecuador and that’s the motive for his death,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happening in my country.”

Villavicencio was not protected from the threats against him, said Patricia Aguilera, an assembly candidate for a rural area of Quito.

“They killed him because they feared an honest man assuming power and saying the truth about all the corruption in this country,” she said. “The state didn’t protect him.”

Presidential candidates universally condemned the murder, although Villavicencio’s party has denounced what it calls “political use” of his death, as accusations were traded about allegations of ties to criminal groups.

Two of Villavicencio’s opponents – Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez and law-and-order candidate Jan Topic – have suspended their campaigns. Luisa Gonzalez, who is backed by former President Rafael Correa, a long-time bete noire of Villavicencio, and is leading the race with just below 30% voter support, has not. Neither has Otto Sonnenholzner, though neither he nor Gonzalez had public events scheduled for Friday.

Villavicencio, a 59-year-old father, had 7.5% support in polls, placing him fifth out of eight candidates.

Violence in Ecuador has surged in recent years, especially in cities along drug-trafficking routes like Guayaquil and Esmeraldas where citizens say they live in fear.

President Guillermo Lasso, who called early elections to avoid an impeachment vote, has been criticized for failing to tamp down the violence.

His government blames bloodshed on the streets and in prisons on criminal infighting to control the drug trafficking routes used by Mexican cartels, the Albanian mafia and others.

Beyond security, employment and migration are major issues for voters.

Candidates will participate in a mandatory televised debate on Sunday. Villavicencio’s party had asked for the debate to be postponed, but the electoral authority declined. — Reuters

Read more, click here: GMA News

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