Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio speaks during a campaign rally, minutes before he was assassinated in Quito, Ecuador, Aug. 9, 2023. EFE FILE/STR

Six suspects held over murder of Ecuador presidential candidate slain in prison

Quito, Oct 6 (EFE).- Six Colombians accused of involvement in the murder of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio were killed in prison on Friday, according to authorities.

The body of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio is transported in Quito, Ecuador on Aug. 11, 2023. EFE FILE/ José Jácome

The body of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio is transported in Quito, Ecuador on Aug. 11, 2023. EFE FILE/ José Jácome

The state prisons agency SNAI confirmed the identities of the bodies after the Prosecutor’s Office and police entered Litoral Penitentiary, the largest prison in Ecuador, to collect them.

The six men were suspected of involvement in the murder of Villavicencio in August as he left a campaign rally, along with a seventh Colombian who was shot by security at the scene and later died.

The inmates’ deaths come days after the United States government offered a reward of up to $5 million for anyone providing information leading to the arrest of masterminds behind Villavicencio’s murder.

The inmates were in pavilion seven of the Guayaquil prison, officially called Guayas Deprivation of Liberty Center Number 1, which has a dozen pavilions controlled by various criminal gangs and hold some 5,700 people.

Citizen platform SOS Cárceles Ecuador reported that the six Colombians had requested a transfer to a more secure prison days ago, which was denied.

According to prison guards cited by the platform, the bodies of the inmates “do not show signs of torture or wounds resulting from any combat” in the most violent prison in Ecuador.

The Litoral Penitentiary is the largest detention center in the Guayaquil prison system, with five prisons holding about 12,300 people.

The biggest massacres have taken place in this prison out of a string of them since 2020 that has left more than 400 prisoners murdered in Ecuador’s prison system, mainly due to clashes between rival criminal gangs.

Recently, the police and armed forces entered the interior of the pavilions in a series of operations in which they seized a large number of weapons including includes rifles, pistols, grenades, grenade launchers and explosives, in addition to numerous bladed weapons and other prohibited objects.

The six Colombians were some of the 13 prosecuted in the investigation for the murder of Villavicencio, which occurred on Aug. 9 after a political rally in Quito, just 11 days out from the first round of the election.

The deaths prompted Ecuador’s conservative President Guillermo Lasso to return from New York to convene an urgent security cabinet meeting.

“In the next few hours I will return to Ecuador to attend to this emergency. Neither complicity nor cover-up,” he wrote on X. “Here the truth will be known.”

Even before the bodies were identified, former president Rafael Correa stated without hesitation that, “if they are Villavicencio’s hitmen, it confirms that the government was behind the crime,” a theory that has sustained since the death of the prominent journalist, trade unionist and politician, who was a staunch political rival.

The murder of Villavicencio raised to unprecedented levels the wave of violence attributed to organized crime that has made Ecuador one of the most violent countries in the world in recent years. EFE