Campaigning for the presidential election in Ecuador came to a close Thursday under a heavy security shield for the candidates. Former investigative journalist Christian Zurita chose the emblematic Shyris Avenue in the capital, the scene of the largest social demonstrations in the country. It was his first and last political rally after taking the baton of the Movimiento Construye presidential candidacy following the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, who was gunned down on August 9 in Quito. Zurita wore a helmet and bulletproof vest under a white T-shirt with the face of his friend and his former partner in journalistic investigations. The event began with a mass in honor of Villavicencio, in which his closest family members participated. They too all wore bulletproof vests and were surrounded by a police escort. The security deployment included snipers in the surrounding buildings and Zurita was transported in armored vehicles, unlike Villavicencio, who was travelling in a state-provided unarmored van when he was shot and killed.
Meanwhile, a campaign rally organized by Daniel Noboa, the son of tycoon and five-time presidential candidate Álvaro Noboa, dispersed amid a shootout in the city of Durán, which is located fifteen minutes outside of Guayaquil. Vehicles carrying Noboa’s supporters were driving along the main avenue when shots were heard in the vicinity. Noboa, who always wears a bulletproof vest, said on social networks that “intimidation and fear have no place in the country we want and to which we are committed to change once and for all.” Minister of the Interior Juan Zapata later ruled out that the gunfire had been an attack against the candidate. Shootings are common in Durán, where drug gangs are engaged in a turf war. Between Guayaquil, Durán and Samborondón, three neighboring municipalities that are also in the grip of criminal organizations, 1,636 violent crimes have been registered so far this year and combined, the three areas have a homicide rate of 50.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Luisa González, the presidential candidate for the Citizen Revolution Movement — former president Rafael Correa’s party — who was leading the polls until before Villavicencio’s murder, chose the Cristo del Consuelo sector in Guayaquil for her last day of campaigning: the same place where a year ago, the first terrorist bombing in a populated urban area took place. Arriving two hours late, González walked the streets of the neighborhood before attending a concert with live music where Correa made a speech via videoconference. During her own intervention, González delivered a discourse with the message: “We already did it.”
Otto Sonnenholzner, former vice president under Lenín Moreno, dedicated his last day of campaigning to a walk for peace that began in the coastal city of Machala, where he dedicated a speech to security, and then moved to Guayaquil for a political rally in the Coliseo Modelo.
In another enclosed place, the Guayaquil Convention Center, presidential candidate Jan Topic brought his campaign to a close with a speech in which he drew attention to “a dirty campaign that magically appeared in the last 24 hours,” referring to the publication of contracts for the purchase of security cameras, containing alleged irregularities as denounced by the Municipality of Guayaquil, which has requested an audit of the State Comptroller’s Office in which Topic’s family company is involved.
The only indigenous candidate, Yaku Pérez, also wore a bulletproof vest and closed his campaign with a rally at the top of the iconic Panecillo mountain, in the Historic Center of Quito. There he symbolically signed his first presidential decree, declaring security a national priority for the country. He also participated in an ancestral ceremony. Xavier Hervas, who is running for the presidency for a second time, suspended all campaign activities after the murder of Villavicencio. Neither he nor Bolívar Armijos, the candidate for the AMIGO Movement, scheduled a campaign closing. Now the country will enter a period of electoral silence, during which Ecuadorians will reflect on which way to cast their vote at the polls on August 20, amid of a wave of violence and the threat of terrorist attacks.
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