Six Accused of Murdering Ecuadorean Presidential Candidate Are Found Dead

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The prison killings have added to the sense that the nation is in thrall to a narco-trafficking industry with ties to the government.

A van with official markings.
A forensic team entering a prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Friday, where six inmates accused of murdering a presidential candidate were found dead.Credit…Gerardo Menoscal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Genevieve Glatsky

The six Colombian men accused of murdering an Ecuadorean presidential candidate were found dead in a prison in the port city of Guayaquil on Friday, 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.

Mr. 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 on 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 on Oct. 15, pitting a center-right businessman, 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 J. 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 accused killers, 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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