World (AP)

Slain Ecuador candidate fearlessly took on drug cartels and corruption | AP News

Slain Ecuador candidate fearlessly took on drug cartels and corruption | AP News

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — The Ecuadorian presidential candidate who was fatally shot at a political rally was unafraid to take on criminal networks and a political elite he accused of corruption at the hands of organized crime.

Fernando Villavicencio, who was a journalist before entering politics, waged a yearslong battle against the forces that he saw transforming Ecuador, including crime that had seeped into nearly every aspect of life, from street robbery to cocaine trafficking and corrupt government contracting.

Among the 59-year-old’s biggest scoops as a journalist was reporting on a trove of documents that pointed to inflated prices, shoddy workmanship and extravagant kickbacks that were involved in some of the country’s largest infrastructure projects, including some built by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. The evidence he uncovered was later used to help convict former Vice President Jorge Glas on bribery charges.

Villavicencio also shined a light on obscure deals by which former President Rafael Correa’s leftist government took billions in loans from state banks in China in exchange for oil shipments.

The oil deals, harshly criticized by Villavicencio, have since been restructured by President Guillermo Lasso to give the OPEC nation more financial breathing room at a time when the dollarized economy has been losing competitiveness to its neighbors, all of which have flexible exchange rates that have helped buoy exports.

For his fearless reporting, Villavicencio paid a high price. He fled at least once into exile in Peru in 2017. Upon his return home, he could be seen shuttling around the capital, Quito, with armed bodyguards.