Elections in Ecuador Marked by Political Violence Attributed to Drug Cartels

Published: 17 August 2023

Pedro BrionesEcuadorian politician, Pedro Briones (C), murdered in wave of political violence in the country. (Photo: Paola Cabezas Castillo/Twitter, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Ecuador is preparing for presidential and legislative elections on Sunday after a campaign marked by assassinations of candidates running for office in a country plagued by violence and powerful drug cartels.

The cocaine route from South America to the United States and Europe cuts through Ecuador. According to the United Nations, not only local, Mexican, and Brazilian cartels, but also traffickers from the Balkans and Italy, have established themselves in the country to create supply lines to European markets.

Local leader Pedro Briones of the leftist party Revolución Ciudadana was shot on Monday in a rural area of San Mateo de Esmeraldas. According to media reports, he died on the way to the hospital.

Just a week before Briones, journalist, former congressman, and anti-corruption advocate Fernando Villavicencio, who was running for president, was assassinated in a shooting attack after an election rally in the city of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Nine other people were wounded in the attack, including an assembly candidate and several policemen. The alleged perpetrator died in police custody, but several individuals believed to be involved were arrested, and their residences were raided. They have criminal records in Colombia and Ecuador. Additionally, weapons, ammunition, and vehicles were seized.

In mid-July, an assembly candidate was assassinated in the same region as Pedro Briones, and days later, the mayor of a coastal city in Ecuador was killed in an armed attack.

“Ecuador is going through its bloodiest period. This is due to the total abandonment of an inept government and a state taken over by mafias,” tweeted Luisa Gonzales, the presidential candidate of the Revolución Ciudadana party. “I embrace the family of comrade Pedro Briones, fallen at the hands of violence. Change is urgent!”

“The Government rejects these criminal acts against Ecuadorian democracy and trusts that those responsible will be punished to the fullest extent of the law," said the Colombian Foreign Ministry in a press release, expressing regret over the murder of Briones.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), this wave of political violence in Ecuador is exacerbated by the deterioration of public security in the country.

"Security indicators reflect that, during the first half of this year, at least 3,513 homicides have been registered in the country, which would represent an increase of 58% over the same period in 2022. The situation is aggravated in cities with a greater presence of these groups, impacting the rights of the population in general, and especially journalists and justice operators," said the Commission in a recent press release.