Fernando Villavicencio was a journalist, lawmaker and anti-corruption campaigner.
CNN  — 

Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, shot dead on the campaign trail on Wednesday, was known as a tireless anti-corruption campaigner and investigative journalist.

A 59-year-old lawmaker in the National Assembly, he had been outspoken about corruption and the violence caused by drug trafficking in the country, telling CNN En Español in May that Ecuador had become a “narco state” as he proposed to lead a fight against what he called the “political mafia.”

These declarations, his previous work and future political promises made him many powerful enemies.

Villavicencio previously said that he had received death threats from crime groups.

His campaign promised a crackdown on crime and corruption amid a deadly escalation of violence that has gripped Ecuador in recent years.

The Andean country, a relatively peaceful nation until a few years ago, is now plagued by a turf war between rival criminal organizations.

Violence has been most pronounced on Ecuador’s Pacific coast as criminal groups battle to control and distribute narcotics, primarily cocaine.

“Today Ecuador is controlled by Jalisco Nueva Generación, the Sinaloa Cartel – both from Mexico – as well as the Albanian mafia,” Villavicencio said in an interview with CNN en Español in May.

A ‘tireless fighter’

However, Villavicencio has long been known for his anti-corruption efforts.

Aged just 18 he started a newspaper called Prensa Obrera (Workers Press), and he went on to work for the EP Petroecuador state oil company.

Later, he would uncover corruption scandals in Ecuador’s booming oil industry, and also pushed for an investigation into an incident in which the army killed at least five people while freeing then President Rafael Correa from a hostage situation in 2010.

Correa filed a defamation lawsuit against Villavicencio, and he was later convicted to 18 months in prison as a result.

Villavicencio was shot as he left this campaign event on Wednesday.

Villavicencio went on the run to avoid detention, and gave an interview to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2014.

“The president wants me to get down on my knees and apologize,” he told the CPJ. “But I will never do that.”

Villavicencio later claimed asylum in Peru citing “political persecution” from the Correa government, according to Peruvian state broadcaster TV Peru.

On Wednesday, Movimiento Construye, the political coalition that Villavicencio was running for, issued a statement praising him as a “tireless fighter” on Facebook.

“Fernando Villavicencio bravely took on organized crime and he wasn’t afraid to criticize its links with politics,” reads the statement.

Villaviciencio was born in Alausí, central Ecuador, on October 11, 1963. He has authored a number of books investigating corruption in Ecuador, as well as building media outlets such as LaFuente.ec, MilHojas.is and periodismodeinvestigación.com.

His political career began in 2009, when he worked as an adviser to lawmaker Cléver Jiménez. In 2021 he was elected to the national assembly himself, serving until May this year, when the assembly was dissolved ahead of elections that are still scheduled to take place on August 20.