Ecuador became one of world’s most violent nations overnight

The assassination of a top presidential candidate put a prominent face on Ecuador’s rapid transformation into one of the planet’s most violent countries. 

The South American nation’s homicide rate quadrupled from 5.8 per 100,000 people in 2018 to 26.7 last year, according to data from the Igarape Institute, a public security think tank in Rio de Janeiro. The sharp increase has made once-tranquil Ecuador, where drug cartels are now battling to control smuggling routes used to ship cocaine to the US and Europe, as deadly as Mexico and Colombia.

“Ecuador is registering an unprecedented escalation of lethal violence,” said Robert Muggah, a co-founder of the Igarape Institute. “The latest surge in homicides is due to increased competition between rival drug trafficking gangs.” 

Fernando Villavicencio, a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for Aug. 20, was gunned down Wednesday as he left a campaign event in Quito, the capital. Six suspects have been arrested, all foreigners, while another died after exchanging fire with security officials.

Several local reports said most of the men arrested were Colombian. The nationality of the suspects is likely to stoke regional tensions with Colombia, which is struggling to contain a booming cocaine trade and has been criticized by neighbors for not doing enough to slow mass migration in the region. Colombian nationals were also implicated in the 2021 murder of Haiti President Jovenel Moise. Colombian President Gustavo Petro was among the first world leaders to offer his condolences on Villavicencio’s killing. 

President Guillermo Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency and deployed troops across the Andean nation, tactics that have failed to stem the rise in homicides in the past. 

The violence had already begun to spill into the political realm before Villavicencio’s murder. One mayor narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in May. A city councilman was murdered in June. Last month, a mayor and a congressional candidate were shot and killed in separate incidents. –BLOOMBERG