The six Colombians charged for the assassination of Ecuador’s presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in August, were found dead in the prison where they were detained, on Friday, October 6th. The deaths were confirmed by Ecuadorian penitentiary authorities.
On Saturday, another prisoner connected to the death of candidate Villavicencio was killed in another prison more than 400 kilometers away, in the El Inca prison in Quito. This individual was an Ecuadorian citizen linked to the assassination and, like the Colombians, was found dead, having hanged himself with bedsheets.
Violence in the Guayaquil prison
The six Colombian nationals were imprisoned in Guayaquil, an area plagued by drug trafficking gang warfare, while awaiting trial during investigations into their involvement in the assassination of the presidential candidate.
Fernando Villavicencio was shot and killed while getting into his car after participating in a campaign event in Quito on August 9th. The Ecuadorian police quickly arrested six Colombian citizens, who were subsequently transferred from one correctional facility to another due to concerns for their safety.
The deaths occurred amid the riots that took place in the prison on Friday. Such disturbances are not uncommon in the country. According to official data, in less than two years, 430 inmates have been killed in Ecuadorian prisons during disturbances and clashes among inmates.
Drug Trafficking Gang Rivalries
The penitentiary where the deaths occurred is part of a complex consisting of five prisons located in Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador. Violent confrontations between members of rival gangs involved in drug trafficking are common in these prisons, where nearly 7,000 inmates are housed.
The Colombians under investigation for Villavicencio’s murder were also linked to various homicides, theft, drug trafficking, and illegal possession of firearms.
Local media reported that the Las Guayas 1 prison pavilion, where the deaths occurred, is controlled by the Los Aguilas gang, a group associated with Mexican drug cartels such as the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels.
With these deaths, the chances of identifying the mastermind behind the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, a politician with little chance of winning the presidency – but who had taken a strong stance against drug trafficking in Ecuador, appear to have diminished.
President Lasso’s Reaction
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, who was on a private trip to New York, reacted on the same Friday by condemning the alleged murders. Lasso, who called an extraordinary meeting of the Security Cabinet, asserted that there is “neither complicity nor cover-up” and pledged that “the truth will be known.” It’s worth noting that some sources accused Guillermo Lasso and his government of passivity when assassins killed Fernando Villavicencio during his presidential campaign.
Upon returning to the country, the president ordered a police purge in Ecuador, reorganizing the high command of the force. In this regard, Luis Ordóñez was removed from his position as director of the National Service for Comprehensive Care to Persons (SNAI) in favor of Colonel Fausto Cobo.
The director-general of police investigations was also suspended, and a criminal complaint was filed against the prison director where the events occurred in Guayaquil. Authorities hope that their explanations will shed light on a case that, according to the Ecuadorian press, sounds too much like an attempt to conceal the true culprits behind the assassination of candidate Fernando Villavicencio.
What the case illustrates for the local media is that the infiltration of organized crime in the country’s penitentiary institutions is so significant that it allows this type of acts. According to speculation, these are clearly planned events intended to suppress the truth behind an assassination that still deeply shakes Ecuadorian society, which will have to decide who will occupy the presidency of the country in less than a week.