“I’m wearing a bulletproof vest around the clock,” says Ecuadorian candidate amid election.
Andrea González now dons a bulletproof vest round the clock. Just a week ago, the presidential candidate of her Construye party for the upcoming Ecuadorean election, Fernando Villavicencio, was targeted with three gunshot wounds to the head after a campaign rally in Quito, the capital.
Despite the incident, 36-year-old Ms. González is resolute in her role as the party’s vice presidential candidate, alongside Christian Zurita. Zurita, a journalist like Fernando Villavicencio, is known for his investigations into corruption.
“I’m committed to upholding Fernando’s legacy,” Ms. González shared on the BBC’s Newshour program. She emphasized the personal impact of the situation and the difficulty of not being able to bid farewell to her friend. “I’m constantly wearing a bulletproof vest,” she stated.
Fernando Villavicencio, 59, who was both a journalist and a member of Ecuador’s national assembly, sustained the gunshot wounds while departing from a campaign event in the capital just 11 days prior to the presidential election. Following an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement, one assailant was killed, while several others managed to flee.
The tragic incident has shaken the country, which has generally been spared from the rampant drug-related violence, cartel conflicts, and corruption that have affected its neighboring nations. However, crime rates have surged in recent years due to the presence of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels.
Fernando Villavicencio’s campaign had a strong focus on addressing corruption and gang-related issues, setting him apart as one of the few candidates who raised concerns about connections between organized crime and government officials in Ecuador.
“We are at the brink of becoming a narco-state,” Ms González said.
“We are totally sure that this is a political assassination, more than the gangs and the organized crime. There’s a political feeling in this, there’s a political intention in this,” she added.
“Three days before the debate and Fernando clearly said he had very delicate information that was going to change the way these elections were turning. That information never got to light.”
Ms. González, whose career has mainly focused on environmental issues, said that these levels of violence had become normalized in Ecuadorean politics.
Initially, her party wanted her to succeed Mr. Villavicencio as presidential candidate, but later party officials decided to keep her as running mate and chose Christian Zurita as the replacement. They feared she could have been disqualified, as she was already registered as a vice-presidential candidate.
As the ballot papers had already been printed, Fernando Villavicencio’s name will remain on the ballot.
Violence has not ceased since the attack on the candidate. Pedro Briones, a local leader of the left-wing Citizen Revolution Party in Esmeraldas, was shot dead by gunmen on a motorcycle at his home on Monday.
“Any one of us is exposed to this level of violence,” Ms González said.
“Taking your child to school is already a high risk. Every time you stop at a traffic light you are exposed to getting shot or having a bomb next to your car.
“The level of violence that Ecuador is experiencing has never been seen before.”
But she says this will not stop her attempts to achieve what her mentor had dreamed of.
“I feel a lot of weight on my shoulders,” she said.