Elections in Ecuador on August 20 under State of Emergency

After the assassination of candidate Fernando Villavicencio

Ecuadoran presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio speaking at a campaign rally, minutes before being assassinated. Photo: Confidencial / EFE

Ecuador today is a country with a life-threatening wound, that requires an urgent national project of unity, peace, and reconstruction.

By Maria Villarreal (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – On Thursday, August 10, 2023 – just 10 days before Ecuador’s presidential elections – Fernando Villavicencio, candidate for the presidency, was assassinated, following a rally in Quito. Current president Guillermo Lasso has declared a 60-day state of emergency in the entire country. The first assassination of a presidential candidate in Ecuador’s history is an attack on democracy and shines a light on the profound crisis and unprecedented wave of violence the country is experiencing. This act, which was preceded by threats and an attack by criminal groups, reflects the growing challenge Latin American countries are facing from transnational organized crime. It marks a critical juncture for Ecuador’s future.

Villavicencio was a journalist, a former member of Ecuador’s Congress, and a candidate for president on the part of the Movimiento Construye [“Build Movement”] Party. In an electoral context marked by voter indecision, he was thought to be in second, third or fourth place [of eight parties], depending on the opinion poll. He was a fierce opponent of [former Ecuadoran President] Rafael Correa’s government; during that administration [2007–2017], he denounced presumed cases of corruption, until eventually in 2014 he himself was accused and sentenced to 18 months in jail. Rather than serve the sentence, however, he went into hiding in the Amazon jungle region.

In 2016 a judge once again ordered Villavicencio jailed for revealing sensitive information. On that occasion, he hid out in Lima, Peru, and only returned to the country during the government of Lenin Moreno [Ecuadoran president from 2017–2021]. From then on, Villavicencio maintained an active political profile. For the last few years, he was assigned a police security team, as he denounced the activities of organized crime. Villavicencio was also a close collaborator of current Ecuadoran president Guillermo Lasso. His assassination has shaken the country. Four local politicians of diverse ideological tendencies have been killed in Ecuador this year alone.

Once considered an island of peace in the region, Ecuador has gone from being a transit route, to being a center of storage, processing and distribution of drugs in Latin America. Faced with the threats of organized crime, and of those who seek a solution in authoritarian leaders, the country has reached a point in which defending democracy, peace and citizen security is an urgent priority, above and beyond the political differences.

August 20 will be a turning point for various reasons. In the first place, these will be presidential and legislative elections in the middle of an electoral cycle. They were called by President Guillermo Lasso after he dissolved the National Assembly, Ecuador’s Congress, which had an opposition majority. Lasso’s decision took place amid a political trial that had been initiated against him for accusations of corruption and misappropriation of public funds.

The investigation, known as “Gran Padrino” [Big Godfather], revealed alleged influence trafficking in the heart of the public corporations, involving people close to the president such as his brother-in-law Danilo Carrera, as well as illicit financing of his presidential campaign. Lasso has repeatedly denied these accusations and, according to organizations such as Reporters without Borders, has attempted to censor the journalists who were publicizing the denunciations, calling them “media terrorists.”

The extreme violence that’s affecting Ecuador, the threats, and the hostile climate against journalism that’s been established, was a decisive factor in the recent exit from the country of Andersson Boscan and Monica Velasquez, two prominent journalists from the digital news outlet La Posta, in addition to the exile of journalists Karol Noroña and Lissette Ormaza.

Ecuador’s current problems are based in structural factors, and are also the fruits of the current regime’s inaction. The Lasso government has lacked a real strategy for security and has contributed to the worsening of the situation through a process of progressive democratic erosion and policies of structural adjustment and economic austerity.

Amid this scenario, over 50% of the electorate still report themselves as “undecided” in the upcoming elections. Diverse polls affirm that Luisa Gonzalez (candidate for Revolucion Ciudadana) has the greatest support among those saying they intend to vote. She may even have the possibility of winning on the first round. There are different estimates of which candidate is in second place, but the majority see Otto Sonnenholzner (Actuemos Party); Yaku Perez (Claro que se Puede Alliance); or Jan Topic (Por un Pais sin miedo) in that order, as possible rivals in a run-off election.

On August 20, Ecuador will also hold a historic popular consultation that could put an end to six decades of oil extractionism in Bloque ITT, located in the Yasuni National Park. This park, created in 1979 and declared by the UNESCO a Biosphere Reserve, is considered one of the places on the plant with the greatest biodiversity. It’s also a refuge for the Tagaeri and Taromenane, the last indigenous groups to remain in voluntary isolation in the country. The central importance of this consultation resides in the possibility of constructing a model that could serve as an alternative to extractionism to guarantee the sustainable well-being of the population, centered on the interests of the majority. It’s also a way to preserve a region with strategic importance to the world, that makes a concrete contribution to the fight against climate change. This would put the country in the vanguard of efforts to preserve and defend the environment.

Today, Ecuador is a country with a life-threatening wound, that requires an urgent national project of unity, peace and reconstruction. In this context, its fundamentally important that we avoid the instrumentalization of assassinations like that of Fernando Villavicencio and avoid criminalizing any of the political movements. In the face of the threats from organized crime and destabilizing forces, the best antidote is a national pact and a correct rollout of the coming elections, with the support and observation of the international community.

Even though it will be a transition government, the next president of the country will have a Herculean task before them, in which the priority must be reconstructing Ecuador and guaranteeing democracy, citizen security and social justice. Together with these objectives, the consultation regarding Yasuni also offers a historic opportunity to begin putting an end to extractionism and implement actions in favor of environmental and climate justice to benefit everyone.

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