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Authorities are looking into the assassination of an Ecuadorian presidential candidate

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Candidate for president of Ecuador was assassinated this week. Fernando Villavicencio, a former investigative journalist who campaigned against corruption, was gunned down as he got into a pickup truck after a campaign event just a day after he had told a crowd in Quito, come. Here I am. Let the drug lords come. Let the hitmen come. The time for threats is over. Here I am. Six people have been arrested in connection with the killings so far. Arianna Tanca is a political scientist there in Ecuador and joins us. Thank you so much for being with us.

ARIANNA TANCA: I'm so happy to be here, as well.

SIMON: I gather the election will go on as scheduled, August 20, but what has this done to the campaign?

TANCA: Well, the election is still going to happen. There's no change in the date or anything, not even in the debate that's going to happen on Sunday. But as of right now, everybody's kind of feeling very angry, very sad. There's this desperation. There's a lot of fear because it feels like our country is in the hands of these drug cartels and mafia, and we do not even know who they are. There's a lot of groups fighting over power, fighting over territory. So it's like an invisible enemy that we do not have either the money, the resources or the political institutions to fight them.

SIMON: The six men who were arrested, I gather, are from Colombia. And, of course, I don't want to prejudge anything. But based on your experience, what do you see that possibly went on here?

TANCA: So the spike of violence and drug-related violence in our country definitely had a hike during 2021 and 2022. But we all know that drug-related violence does not appear from one day to another. So as of right now, we are kind of suffering the consequences of past administrations in their foreign policy or internal security policies. Sadly, it's not only about politicians and journalists, but they will kill you over a phone. They'll call your store, and they will tell you, like, if you do not give me, I don't know, 600 or $6,000, I will kill you. So there's a lot of things going on. And I'm afraid we are looking at the tip of the iceberg, and we still have a long way to go.

SIMON: My gosh, that sounds like an impossible place to live at the moment.

TANCA: Yes. It's sad to say that my country is not what it used to be. And definitely, it has changed our lives for our - the past two years. For example, in Esmeraldas, which is the most affected province, all these stores, you know, all the economic things going on there, they have to close up at 6 p.m. or 5 p.m. So there's also an economic downturn of all of this.

SIMON: I must say I found it very moving this week to read accounts of how Fernando Villavicencio would refuse to wear a bulletproof vest and would tell a crowd, here I am in my sweaty shirt, damn it. You are my bulletproof vest.

TANCA: Yes. That was the kind of guy he was. He didn't fear them. And not only as a politician because he began, you know, exposing these kind of topics at least 20 years ago. And that's why he decided to run for president as the presidential candidate. But that was him. He never feared nobody. And he would stood up for everybody looking for justice, looking for peace, looking for the truth. That was him.

SIMON: Yeah. We think of Ecuador, at least until recently, as being a common democratic country. What happened?

TANCA: I mean, there's a lot of different gangs that are in our territory. Some of them are branches of cartels from Mexico, cartels from Colombia. Some of them are here. Some of them actually is from Albania. So we have so many gangs fighting over the territory here because Ecuador used to be like a passing country. But now Ecuador is a distribution center. So it makes it more dangerous than it was before. The state has no control over it, and we are left in their hands. Where - our destiny, our, you know, future is in the hands of these people because no one can actually fight them.

SIMON: How do you think Fernando Villavicencio will be seen in Ecuador in the years to come?

TANCA: I think he will be seen as a referent of the fight against corruption, the fight against the mafia at all costs, as somebody who was very brave, brave enough to fight them with his name, with his face. He exposed them with, you know, not only with words. He had documents with him. So I think that's the legacy that he's given us.

SIMON: Arianna Tanca, who is a political scientist in Ecuador, thank you so much for being with us.

TANCA: It was a pleasure talking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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