The Death Spiral

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Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency Thursday, a day after the South American country was rocked by the assassination of a presidential candidate – who was vocal about ties between the state and organized crime – less than two weeks before a general election, the New York Times reported.

On Wednesday, a gunman shot and killed Fernando Villavicencio outside a high school in the capital of Quito. Authorities said the suspect died shortly after in the melee that followed, adding that nine other people were shot as they became caught in the crossfire.

Police later launched raids and detained six people in connection with the murder.

Lasso condemned the assassination and called it “a political crime” aimed at sabotaging the country’s elections on Aug. 20. He announced a 60-day state of emergency that will include the restriction of civil liberties and the deployment of security forces across Ecuador.

However, the president – who having faced impeachment proceedings over accusations of embezzlement will not run in the upcoming elections – added that the voting will proceed as scheduled.

Villavicencio, a lawmaker and former journalist, was polling in the middle of an eight-person race and was among the most vocal candidates on the issues of crime and government corruption.

His death marks the first assassination of a presidential candidate in Ecuador, which came less than a month after unknown gunmen murdered the mayor of the port city of Manta.

Between 2005 and 2015, Ecuador underwent a remarkable transformation with millions emerging from poverty thanks to an oil boom funding social programs.

However, in recent years, the nation has been overwhelmed by a powerful drug-trafficking sector. Collaboration between foreign drug cartels and local gangs has led to unprecedented violence, resulting in record-high homicide rates.

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