One of Ecuador’s presidential candidates has demanded an investigation into a shooting that took place meters from where he was dining out with his family on Saturday – just one day before the country goes to the polls.
Otto Sonnenholzner said he had been having breakfast with his wife and daughters at a restaurant when violence broke out.
“A few minutes after arriving at the restaurant, there was a shootout after a police chase a few meters from where we were,” Sonnenholzner said in a video message. He said neither he nor his family had been harmed.
The shooting comes just days after the assassination of another presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, who had been campaigning against gang violence and corruption, shocked the world.
“This is one more example of what Ecuadorians face on a daily basis,” Sonnenholzner said of the latest shooting.
“Thank God we are all fine but we demand an investigation into what happened.”
Videos show Sonnenholzner and members of his family leaving the premises with bulletproof protection.
“The fear and helplessness that I saw in the eyes of everyone there hurts me. We can’t go on like this,” Sonnenholzner said.
Ecuador National Police said later they had detained five people after an assault at a sports store in Guayaquil city. Two firearms, sports clothing, and cash were confiscated at the scene, police said.
Police said the shooting was unrelated to the election and not targeted at Sonnenholzner and his family.
“The National Police ratifies its commitment to fight crime, with the firm purpose of safeguarding the safety of all Ecuadorians,” a statement read.
A deadly escalation of violence has gripped Ecuador in recent years, particularly on the South American country’s Pacific coast as criminal groups battle to control and distribute narcotics, primarily cocaine.
Villavicencio was shot dead as he was leaving a campaign rally in the capital, Quito on August 10. He was known as a tireless anti-corruption campaigner and investigative journalist.
The 59-year-old lawmaker had said he received death threats from gangs and his political promises made him “many powerful enemies.”
His murder drew international attention and has shaken the country ahead of its presidential and legislative elections on Sunday.
Villavicencio’s family has accused the state of the crime of “murder by willful omission” and filed a legal complaint against the government, saying that he was not adequately protected.
“They had to watch over his life, knowing he was a journalist who had [received] many threats,” said the family’s lawyer, Marco Yaulema.
Ecuadorians will decide between eight presidential candidates in Sunday’s vote.
Tackling crime had been high on the political agenda even before Villavicencio’s assassination, with various candidates promising to improve security in the country.
Gissella Cecibel Molina, a colleague and friend of Villavicencio, was injured during the shooting last week. She told CNN that she risks becoming partially blind from the attack but remains defiant.
“We are not going to be subdued by mafiosos, corrupt politicians who want to be elected to the assembly, the Latin Kings, the [Mexican] Zetas [cartel], the Albanians that are now operating in the country, extortionists, kidnappers and all those terrorizing the population,” Molina said.
Despite her injury, she still plans to run for re-election in the National Assembly and insists she wants to ensure justice is served.
Following Saturday’s shooting, Sonnenholzner reiterated calls to stem “the serious crisis.”
“As a husband and father, I know that no one should go through this. No boy or girl in our country or in the world should live in fear,” he said.
“Now more than ever, we will not give up. We reject violence and appreciate the courage with which Ecuadorians will leave their homes to vote with courage and responsibility for a better Ecuador.”
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