This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Impunity Observer.
On August 20, 2023, Ecuador held a presidential election amid the worst insecurity crisis in the country’s history. In the October 15 runoff, Ecuadorians will choose between Correísmo—a socialist, autocratic movement—and social-democrat Congressman Daniel Noboa. The latter is on target to win and pull the rug out from under 21st-century socialism, but in Ecuador anything can happen.
Noboa, a 35-year-old politician, is Correísmo’s biggest and unexpected threat due to his exponential popularity growth in the week prior to the election. Further, he is an outsider who represents neither Correísmo nor anti-Correísmo, as President Guillermo Lasso categorized himself in the 2021 election. According to a July Comunicaliza poll, 46 percent of citizens want the next government to be unrelated to the dichotomy.
On May 17, Lasso—who was facing a congressional impeachment for alleged corruption—dissolved parliament and convened for anticipated presidential and legislative elections. Rafael Correa nominated his former secretary of the Presidential Office (2015–2016) Luisa González as his party’s presidential candidate. González, also a congresswoman (2021–2023), faced seven candidates, including former Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner (2018–2020).
The electoral process has had multiple violent incidents—including the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, one of the favorites to get to the runoff. As a journalist, Villavicencio unveiled corruption within Correa’s inner circle, which led to the Correa administration persecuting and harassing him.
For instance, law enforcement agents raided his house in 2013. For this reason, Villavicencio’s family and supporters perceive Correísmo to be the most plausible murder suspect.
González—the most-voted-for candidate with 33 percent—failed to win the presidency in the first round of election. Noboa’s advancement to the runoff has left everyone baffled, because two weeks ago polls predicted he would get 2 percent of the vote; yet he reached 23 percent. This electoral surprise provides Ecuador an opportunity to preserve its democracy and fight organized crime.
Los pronósticos electorales con encuestas digitales realizadas por @Comunicaliza demuestran nuevamente su precisión en las Elecciones del 2023 en Ecuador incluso en un escenario volátil como el que pudimos observar: pic.twitter.com/a4JauNjGSc
— Álvaro Marchante (@amarchante) August 22, 2023
An Electoral Campaign Stained with Blood
Until 2020 Ecuador was a relatively safe country across the region, with a homicide rate of eight per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2021, the homicide rate started its exponential increase until reaching 25 per 100,000 in 2022. According to local news outlet Primicias, the homicide rate will reach 39 in 2023, surpassing Mexico (24.3) and Colombia (23.9).
On July 24, hired assassins murdered Agustín Intriago—mayor of Manta, Ecuador’s fourth largest city. This was a turning point in the presidential campaign since candidates who vowed to have a heavy-handed approach against criminals gained popularity according to polls. For example, Jan Topic, a security-focused businessman and former member of the French Foreign Legion, and Fernando Villavicencio, an anticorruption fighter and former congressman, started gaining more popularity among citizens.
On July 31, Villavicencio told the media that “Fito”—leader of the Choneros, a local criminal organization that works along the Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico—threatened him. Nine days later, seven gunmen killed Villavicencio in Quito’s financial district.
Fernando Villavicencio anunció hace unos días que había recibido amenazas de Alias Fito, líder del cartel Los Choneros. pic.twitter.com/EQQfQeTdyv
— Wall Street Wolverine (@wallstwolverine) August 10, 2023
Gangs have been growing over the last 15 years. According to Topic, the Choneros went from having 150 members in 2006, a year before Correa’s arrival in office, to having 15,000 members when Correa left office in 2017. This suggests the state has been an accomplice to organized crime.
Journalist Francisco Huerta warned in 2008 that Ecuador was on the verge of becoming a “narcodemocracy.” This came after his investigation into the Angostura case—related to the FARC in Ecuador—when he detected the penetration of drug trafficking in state institutions, such as the police and the military. In 2023, the narcodemocracy is a reality.
Villavicencio’s investigations led to prosecution and prison sentences for Correa and other high-ranking officials from the state. However, Correa—a fugitive from Ecuadorian law—asserts that the right wing ordered the murder to blame it on him. This is pure speculation, since no clear evidence has emerged regarding the authors of the crime.
Villavicencio’s fight against mafias and corrupt high-ranking officials cost him his life. The onus is now on all Ecuadorians to push the state into finding the intellectual authors. Otherwise this sets a negative precedent for freedom of expression and those who dare to speak up against corruption and organized crime.
The Underdog’s Exponential Growth
Due to the dwindling legitimacy of politicians in Ecuador, the foundation was laid for the arrival of an outsider to win the presidency. Consistent with this, an August 2 Comunicaliza poll predicted Topic getting second place. However, after the presidential debate on August 13—which had national television’s biggest audience in 2023, with almost one million viewers—Noboa started his exponential growth that led to his 23 percent tally.
Ecuatorianos: les presento a la Nueva Policía 2024 que nos llevará #DelMiedoALaEsperanza! ✊🇪🇨
— Jan Topic (@jantopicecuador) August 15, 2023
Noboa, who considers himself a social democrat and free-market supporter, comes from a family with a prominent legacy in politics. His father Álvaro Noboa—Ecuador’s richest man—was a candidate on five occasions but failed to ever win the presidency. In 2006, he faced Correa in the runoff and lost. History is repeating with Álvaro’s son as Correísmo’s biggest threat in the runoff.
His campaign strategy—which has helped him grow—consisted on: (1) roaming across the country’s streets, (2) avoiding verbal attacks from other candidates and focusing on developing his own proposals, (3) using social media—especially TikTok—constantly, and (4) taking advantage of the debate to share his message focused on security and employment.
Ecuador necesita cambiar la manera de dirigir este país. De afrontar los retos que dificultan el crecimiento y la seguridad de los ciudadanos.
Ecuador grita por un cambio de mentalidad. Por la convicción de que se pueden hacer las cosas mejor.
Si nos unimos lo lograremos.… pic.twitter.com/GHgpArmhMx
— Daniel Noboa Azin (@DanielNoboaOk) May 25, 2023
For Luis Espinosa, an economics professor at the San Francisco University of Quito, the pollsters have failed to predict Noboa’s growth due to mistakes in their methodology. He still believes it is uncertain that voters who did not choose González in the first round will automatically vote for Noboa in the runoff. However, he contends that Noboa has a slight advantage because people have a positive image of him. Espinosa says, “No candidate has attacked Noboa during this electoral campaign.”
Noboa’s neutral posture in terms of Correísmo and anti-Correísmo could help him win the presidency because that issue is no longer a reason to convince Ecuadorians to vote for a specific candidate. As of this writing, Topic is the only presidential candidate who has shown his support for Noboa.
The future of Ecuador remains uncertain. However, Noboa’s candidacy represents a glimpse of hope. Correa and his totalitarian project relies on taking over the Executive branch in order to politicize the Judiciary. Noboa, in the meantime, is emerging as a leader who has a daunting but vital challenge ahead: to protect the country’s democracy and fight against organized crime.
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