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Before assassination, Fernando Villavicencio denounced threats from criminal group linked to Sinaloa Cartel

The politician claimed in a video that Los Choneros, a local arm of the Mexican organization, would attack him if he continued to refer to them during his presidential campaign

Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio campaigns in Quito before being assassinated.Photo: REUTERS | Video: EPV

Fernando Villavicencio, the Ecuadorian presidential candidate shot dead on Wednesday, had denounced threats from a criminal group a few weeks before his murder. The Ecuadorian politician told the media that Los Choneros, a local armed wing of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, had warned him that they would attack him and his campaign group if they continued to speak about them. “What this confirms is that our campaign proposal does indeed seriously affect these criminal structures. And here I am, showing my face. I’m not afraid of them. For 20 years, I have gambled in this country against these criminal structures, and I repeat: I am not afraid of them,” he said in footage shared online.

Villavicencio was assassinated on Wednesday afternoon, after a campaign event in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital. The politician was a member of the National Assembly until its dissolution and presided over the Oversight Commission before running for president as the leader of the political group Movimiento Construye (Build Ecuador Movement). Most polls placed him in fourth or fifth position among the eight candidates running for president after Guillermo Lasso announced he would not seek re-election. The election is scheduled for August 20. Villavicencio presented himself as an anti-corruption candidate and campaigned under the slogan, “It’s time for the brave.”

Fernando Villavicencio durante un acto de campaña en Ecuador, en 2023.
Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Ecuador in 2023.CORTESÍA

With Ecuador struggling against an unprecedented wave of crime and insecurity, Villavicencio promised to crack down on criminal groups, frequently telling rallies: “The time for threats is over.” “We are going to bring down drug trafficking. I’m not afraid of them [...] The only thing they can do is kill me, and with that we liberate an entire people. I am not afraid of death, because I have already defeated it,” he told followers at the beginning of July.

Villavicencio also said that he had been advised to take extra precautions due to the threats. “They told me to wear a [bulletproof] vest. Here I am, in a sweaty shirt, damn it. You [the people] are my bulletproof vest. I don’t need it! You come from a brave people, and I am brave like you,” he shouted. “Here I am. They said they were going to break me [...] Let the drug lords come. Let the hitmen come. The time for threats is over.”

In the video shared on social media, in which he denounced the threats, one name stood out: Alias Fito, the leader of Los Choneros. The criminal group, one of the most powerful in the country, was founded in the 1990s in the coastal city of Manta. It currently works for the Sinaloa Cartel in cocaine trafficking. Among its adversaries are Los Lobos, Tiguerones and Chone Killers, three gangs that run logistics operations for the rival Mexican group, Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

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