The tragic demise of an Ecuadorian presidential candidate, who was fatally shot during a political rally, sheds light on his fearless stance against criminal networks and a political establishment he accused of rampant corruption. Fernando Villavicencio, an outspoken journalist turned politician, waged an unyielding battle against the encroachment of crime into every facet of Ecuadorian life. His resolute stance earned him powerful adversaries among the nation's elite.
At the age of 59, Villavicencio faced numerous threats, some of which he linked to the Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico—an influential drug-trafficking network that had gained prominence in Ecuador. Undeterred by these dangers, Villavicencio boldly declared in his final public address that he would hold the "thieves" accountable.
Hailing from a rural background, Villavicencio's early life was characterized by tenacity. Upon founding a small newspaper, Prensa Obrera, at the age of 18, he embarked on a mission to champion workers' rights. He later pursued journalism studies at the Central University of Ecuador.
Villavicencio's journey took him into the heart of Ecuador's challenges. His journalistic investigations unveiled corruption and environmental harm inflicted by the petroleum industry. Notably, he exposed a trove of documents revealing inflated prices, subpar workmanship, and substantial kickbacks associated with major infrastructure projects, including those undertaken by Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht. These revelations contributed to the conviction of former Vice President Jorge Glas on bribery charges.
In addition, Villavicencio delved into the murky realm of deals involving Ecuador's leftist government under former President Rafael Correa, wherein the country secured loans from Chinese state banks in exchange for oil shipments.
For his unflinching journalism and whistleblowing efforts, Villavicencio paid a high price. He faced an 18-year prison sentence for defaming ex-President Correa. Evading authorities, he sought refuge in Ecuador's indigenous territory, surviving on unconventional food sources and evading capture through jungle terrains.
Villavicencio's return from exile in Peru marked a new chapter in his journey. His vocal criticisms and judicial complaints targeted high-ranking officials, leading to the prosecution of Comptroller General Pablo Celi on corruption charges.
Regarded as a "threat to international criminal organizations" by Edison Romo, a former military intelligence colonel, Villavicencio's steadfast opposition to corruption drew attention from narcotrafficking groups operating in Mexico and Colombia. These criminal elements increasingly infiltrated Ecuador, using its ports for cocaine trafficking and contributing to escalating violence.
Villavicencio's resilience persisted as he transitioned into politics, serving as a deputy in Ecuador's congress under the banner of the Honesty Alliance. He continued to denounce energy and oil companies with government contracts, despite facing impeachment charges for alleged embezzlement.
Eager to effect change, Villavicencio entered the presidential race as an anti-corruption candidate for the leftist Build Ecuador Movement. Although not the frontrunner, he ardently addressed Ecuador's rising violence. Despite receiving multiple death threats, he remained undeterred, reporting these threats to authorities.
Villavicencio's untimely death has left the Ecuadorian nation in mourning, prompting reflections on the consequences of violence in politics. His courageous stand against corruption and criminal networks stands as a testament to his enduring legacy.