Colombians held over Ecuador presidential candidate’s murder slain in jail

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Police walk on top of Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in November 2022 [File: Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo]

Ecuador’s President pledges to get to bottom of killings in prison of six Colombian suspects in high-profile murder.

Six Colombian inmates killed in a prison in Ecuador were all suspects in the murder of the country’s anticorruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio earlier this year, Ecuadorian authorities have confirmed.

The killings took place on Friday in Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, the attorney general’s office said.

The SNAI prisons agency said in a statement that the six men who were killed were Colombian nationals.

They “are of Colombian nationality and were accused of the murder of the former presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio”, the prison authority said.

Ecuador’s government condemned the prison killings and President Guillermo Lasso pledged in a message on social media that there would be “neither complicity nor cover-up” in getting to the bottom of who killed the suspects in the Villavicencio case.

“Here, the truth will be known,” Lasso said.

Lasso also said he was temporarily calling off a visit to Seoul and returning from a trip to New York, where he had arrived on Thursday, to handle the incident.

[Unofficial translationFollowing the information about the six crimes that occurred in the Deprivation of Liberty Centre No. 1, in Guayaquil, I have ordered an immediate meeting of the Security Cabinet. In the next few hours, I will return to Ecuador to attend to this emergency. Neither complicity nor cover-up, here the truth will be known.]

The Ecuadorian government has said it is determined to identify those behind the murder of Villavicencio, a prominent journalist-turned-politician who was gunned down on August 9 as he was leaving a campaign rally in northern Quito ahead of first-round voting.

Villavicencio told local media before his killing that an “emissary” of a gang leader in Ecuador had contacted him and warned him to stop mentioning the Los Choneros gang during his campaigning.

Officials have blamed Villavicencio’s murder on organised crime.

Guayaquil is a key port city that has become one of Ecuador’s increasingly bloody centres of a turf war between rival drug-trafficking gangs.

Once a peaceful country nestled between the world’s largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has become a new front line in a conflict between powerful gangs linked to Colombian and Mexican cartels.

Amid the gang-related violence, more than 430 inmate deaths have been recorded in Ecuador since 2021 in massacres that leave a trail of burned and dismembered bodies.

In late August, dozens of guards were taken hostage at several prisons around the country before eventually being released.

On Ecuador’s streets, murders have quadrupled between 2018 and 2022, climbing to a record 26 per 100,000 inhabitants. That rate could climb as high as 40 per 100,000 this year, according to experts.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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