A Tragic Tally

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Unknown gunmen shot and killed a local Ecuadorian party leader this week, the third politician to be assassinated in less than a month as the country heads into elections Sunday, the BBC reported Tuesday.

On Monday, the assailants shot dead Pedro Briones at his home in the northern Esmeraldas province before fleeing on a motorbike. Police have not released further details on the case.

Briones was a leader of the left-wing Citizen Revolution Party of former President Rafael Correa, who is currently in exile in Belgium after being convicted of corruption three years ago.

His death follows the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio at a political rally in the capital Quito last week. Villavicencio was a former journalist who has been repeatedly threatened for investigating organized crime and government corruption and as a candidate, promised a crackdown if elected.

So far, Ecuadoran authorities have arrested six Colombian men in connection with Villavicencio’s murder, according to the Associated Press. Colombia and Peru both use Ecuador as a transit point for drug trafficking.

Over the weekend, police also transferred the leader of one of the country’s most powerful gangs, Adolfo Macías – also known as “Fito” – to a maximum-security prison. Villavicencio had accused Fito of having links with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, and said Fito had threatened him and his campaign team days before the assassination.

The two killings follow the slaying of a mayor in the port city of Manta last month.

The recent murders have shocked Ecuadorans as they prepare to vote in a special election Sunday after the president dissolved Congress and stepped down to avoid impeachment. The top issue in the elections is the spiraling violence in the country.

The South American nation has experienced a surge in violent crime since the pandemic, transforming into a major drug trafficking hub that has seen local gangs forming alliances with international drug cartels.

Thousands of people have been killed over the past three years as criminal groups vie for control of the streets, drug routes and prisons.

In the first half of this year, Ecuador’s National Police recorded 3,568 instances of violent deaths, a significant increase compared to the 2,042 cases documented during the corresponding period in 2022.

Last year ended with a record-breaking 4,600 deaths, twice the number from 2021.

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