Rising frustration and hopelessness have come to define the political realities of Ecuador in recent years. The pandemic’s destabilizing effects and subsequent lockdowns compounded layers of corruption and rising lawlessness. The violent trends within the South African nation were capped last week with the assassination of Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, one of the candidates who spoke out against the rising crime and corruption in the country. His murder occurred less than two weeks before the election.
The current President, Guillermo Lasso, a former banker, won a surprise election in 2021 but called for new elections this year after he dissolved the Congress amid pressure that the legislature would soon force him from office. Lasso promised to bring in 2 million new jobs to the country, but even by the most friendly estimates, he has only brought in 500,000 such jobs. Poverty affects roughly 25% of the country.
The latest presidential candidates have made similar promises or suggested other strategies to cure the nation’s economic ills, but most voters do not believe them. Last year around 1.4 million citizens fled the country for opportunities elsewhere. This year could be even worse. As many as 822,000 Ecuadorians between the ages of 18 and 45 have left the country since January. Among those staying in the country, a recent poll showed nearly 17% planned to cast a blank ballot for the presidency. For such voters, they do not believe any of the candidates can provide real hope for their future.
Along with consistent rises in poverty and unemployment, crime is surging in Ecuador. Experts suggest this trend is growing due to illegal drug routes moving through the country. Last month, the government declared a state of emergency after dozens of people were killed in prison riots. More than 400 people have died in prison riots in Ecuador over the last two years, where drug gangs have set up a style of colonization within the prison system. Some of these victims were burned alive or beheaded to emphasize the violent nature of the unrest.
Along with last month’s prison riots, a spate of kidnappings and the murder of a mayor highlighted the growing threat of organized crime. This is the second murder of a mayor in Ecuador in 2023. In 2022, homicide rates increased by 86% compared to the prior year. The homicide rate in Ecuador has now surpassed Mexico and Brazil.
While calling for three days of mourning, President Lasso said the planned election for August 20 would proceed as planned.