The six Colombians detained in Ecuador for the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio were killed on Friday in an Ecuadorian prison, according to authorities. A source told EL PAÍS that the prisoners were hanged. A few days ago, the United States offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the masterminds behind Villavicencio’s murder. The deaths of the six inmate comes just a week before Ecuadorians head to the polls to vote in the presidential election.
The six hitmen — Andrés Mosquera Ortíz, José Neider López Hitas, Adey Fernando García García, Camilo Romero Reyes, Jules Osmín Castaño Alzate and Jhon Gregore Rodríguez — were being held in cellblock 7 of the Litoral penitentiary in Guayaquil, where some 5,700 people are incarcerated. Late Friday evening, teams from the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ecuadorian police gained access to the premises to remove the bodies and proceed with their identification.
The National Service of Integral Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI) reported that the victims did “not present signs of torture or wounds resulting from a struggle.” Although the prisoners’ bodies were found in cellblock 7, the prisoners had originally been assigned to cellblock 9. Five days ago, they were moved to cellblock 10, according to police sources. Since 2020, more than 400 prisoners have been killed in Ecuador’s prison system, mainly due to clashes between rival criminal gangs.
President Guillermo Lasso, who was in New York, announced that he will return to Ecuador, where he will hold a meeting with his security cabinet. “In the next few hours, I will return to Ecuador to attend to this emergency. [There will be] neither complicity nor a cover-up, the truth will be known,” he tweeted in X. For his part, former president Rafael Correa wrote: “If they are the hitmen who killed Villavicencio, it proves that the government was behind the crime. #LassoResponsible.”
On the night of August 9, hours after the crime, the six Colombians who were killed in prison were arrested in two neighborhoods in southern Quito. Almost a month later, on September 8, six other people were arrested, and the investigation was extended for another 30 days, a period that ended on Saturday. Ecuadorian investigators believed they knew who had shot Villavicencio, but did not know who had organized the killing. The U.S. reward was intended to solve this mystery, a goal that will be more difficult due to the deaths of the hitmen.
“I found out on Twitter,” Diana Patricia Mosquera, the mother of Andrés Mosquera Ortíz, one of those killed, said by phone. The family was worried about the prisoners’ safety after Ecuadorian authorities detonated a drone with explosives on the roof of the prison. Some saw this as part of a plan to silence the hitmen, who had been transferred from Quito to Guayaquil.
Ecuador is in the midst of an unprecedented security crisis. Drug cartels have infiltrated a nation that had been immune to the drug violence that plagued other countries in the region, such as Peru and Colombia. If the current pace continues, by the end of this year, Ecuador will have a crime rate of 40 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, making it among the most violent countries in the world. Violence is the main issue discussed by the two presidential candidates, Daniel Noboa and Luisa Gonzalez, who will compete for the presidency on October 15.
Villavicencio’s crime shook the country to its core. The politician — a journalist by profession — had denounced the infiltration of organized crime in Ecuadorian institutions. On August 9, as he was leaving a rally, he was gunned down by 18-year-old Colombian hitman, Johan David Castillo Lopez, alias Ito. According to security cameras in the vicinity, there were three other gunmen. Two of them were arrested at the scene by police and Villavicencio’s own supporters, who within minutes understood what had happened. Ito was shot while trying to escape and died at the scene a few minutes later. Hours later, the remaining six, all Colombians, were arrested. There was hope that they would reveal who had ordered the crime, but their voices have been silenced forever.
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