A presidential candidate in Ecuador was killed on Wednesday evening when gunfire burst through a political rally in the capital, Quito, just days before an election that has centered around the country’s increasingly dire security situation.
The death of the candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, was confirmed by President Guillermo Lasso. Mr. Villavicencio was a former journalist who was polling near the middle of the eight people running, and was among the most outspoken candidates on the link between organized crime and government officials.
Ecuador, a once relatively safe nation, has been consumed by violence related to narcotrafficking in the last five years. Yet Mr. Villavicencio’s assassination brought the country to a new level of fear and grief: Never before has a presidential candidate been assassinated on the campaign trail.
“Outraged and shocked by the assassination,” Mr. Lasso wrote on Twitter late Wednesday, blaming the death on “organized crime.”
Mr. Villavicencio, 59, had been at a local high school, where he had addressed young supporters.
Carlos Figueroa, a member of his campaign who was at the rally, witnessed the shooting.
“When he stepped outside the door, he was met with gunfire,” Mr. Figueroa said. “There was nothing to be done, because they were shots to the head.”
The killing shocked a nation that had not finished coping with the loss of another important political figure. Just weeks ago, Agustín Intriago, 38, the mayor of Manta, a key Ecuadorean port city, was killed on a visit to a Manta neighborhood.
“We are at the last step of social degradation,” said Rafael Balda, a political analyst in Ecuador. “It is important to note that this is not an isolated event.”
Mr. Villavicencio, who had worked as a journalist, activist and legislator, gained prominence as an opponent of correísmo, the leftist movement of former President Rafael Correa, who served from 2007 to 2017 and still holds political sway in Ecuador.
In 2017 he successfully ran for a seat in the National Assembly where he served until the legislature was dissolved earlier this year by Mr. Lasso, who called for new presidential and legislative elections.