U.S. joins transnational effort to hunt "masterminds" behind assassination of Ecuadorean candidate
The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the “masterminds” behind the recent assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, an Ecuadorean presidential candidate and anti-corruption crusader who was killed last month
September 29, 2023 8:39am
Updated: September 29, 2023 9:18am
The United States government is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the “masterminds” behind the recent assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, an Ecuadorean presidential candidate who was killed last month.
Villavicencio, who was known throughout Ecuador as an anti-corruption crusader, stunned the South American country when he was suddenly shot dead in August during a political rally.
Organized crime was behind the killing, Ecuador's president said at the time.
In addition to the $5m reward for information leading to the arrest of the “masterminds” behind the recent assassination, the U.S. also offered a $1 million reward for information on gang leaders tied to the killing.
“The United States will continue to support the people of Ecuador and work to bring to justice individuals who seek to undermine democratic processes through violent crime,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who announced the reward, announced on Thursday.
The Ecuadorean investigation is already being supported by the FBI, and the U.S. reward is evidence of Washington's devotion to fighting regional organized crime throughout the Western Hemisphere, Blinken said.
Before his assassination, Villavicencio targeted corruption and the rise of criminal gangs. He was one of the few candidates who boldly accused the Ecuadorean government of having actual ties to organized crime.
A former investigative journalist and legislator, Villavicencio accused the government of implementing a soft response to the nation’s criminal syndicates, saying that if he were elected, he would amplify law enforcement efforts to protect the public.
Villavicencio’s killing comes just weeks after Augustín Intriago, the mayor of the Ecuadorian city of Manta, was also gunned down along with female football star, Estefanía Chancay.
In February, Omar Menéndez, a candidate running for mayor in Puerto López was also assassinated when gunman burst into his campaign headquarters and began shooting.
An innocent teenage bystander was also killed in that attack.
Despite the rampant crime and the fact that political assassination is not a foreign concept in Ecuador, Villavicencio’s killing has rocked the nation.
According to the BBC, “the shooting of a presidential candidate at a public event in the capital was the most brazen attack so far and a testimony to the strength of the gangs in Ecuador.”
The British news network went on to say that, “Ecuador has historically been a relatively safe and stable country in Latin America, but crime has shot up in recent years, fueled by the growing presence of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, which have infiltrated local criminal gangs.”
Ecuadorean law enforcement have arrested six Colombian nationals in connection to Villavicencio's death, but they are still searching for other suspects, hoping to catch, as Blinken called them, the “masterminds” who orchestrated the attack.
The U.S. has participated in other transnational law enforcement efforts and offered rewards for information to help bring wanted criminals to justice.
Last year, the DEA offered the $5 million for information leading to the arrest of top members of an Ireland based organized crime syndicate, “Irish Kinahan.”
This week, the U.S. offered a reward of up to $5 million to help locate Abukar Ali Adan, the deputy leader of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant group.