“Fernando Villavicencio’s project is intact, and he had to fight for it. Fernando is my friend. We were working together for 15 years, and we have known each other for 25.″
In a surprising turn of events that has sent ripples throughout Ecuador’s political landscape, the Construye movement has made the decision to appoint journalist Christian Zurita Ron as its replacement candidate for the upcoming presidential election.
This decision comes in the aftermath of the tragic assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, the movement’s original presidential candidate, on August 9th. The unexpected twist, unveiled during a press conference held at a hotel in Quito, has not only shifted the dynamics of the election but has also stirred emotions and evoked a sense of collective purpose among Ecuadorians.
A Friendship Forged in Journalism
Christian Zurita and Fernando Villavicencio were more than just partners in journalistic endeavors; they were united by a shared mission to expose corruption, challenge entrenched power, and uphold the principles of transparency and accountability.
Their paths converged over 25 years ago within the confines of university classrooms, where they nurtured a friendship that would eventually blossom into a powerful force for change. Together, they co-founded the Periodismo de Investigación (Investigative Journalism) portal which would serve as a launchpad for their audacious exposés that laid bare the inner workings of corruption schemes, particularly those linked to the former government of President Rafael Correa.
Fittingly, the portal describes Zurita as, “Outraged journalist. There is no power that he does not face, nor issues that are foreign to him. Persistent enemy of tyrannies, critic of populist journalism. Leftist redeemed.”
Their most notable revelation, the infamous “Green Rice” scandal, later rechristened Bribes 2012-2016 by the State Attorney General’s Office, proved to be a watershed moment in Ecuador’s history.
This investigative bombshell uncovered the illicit financing of electoral campaigns within the ruling Alianza PAIS movement and ultimately led to the conviction of high-ranking officials, including Correa himself, in 2020. Zurita’s unwavering commitment to pursuing the truth, even in the face of legal battles and threats, solidified his reputation as a tenacious and fearless journalist.
Continuing the Fight
At first, Construye had put forward the name of Andrea González Nader, Villavicencio’s running mate, as their new candidate for the Presidency. However, according to the Code of Democracy, once candidacies are registered and approved, they cannot be changed. As a result, Andrea González remains a confirmed candidate for the Vice Presidency of the Republic.
Announcing the Construye selection of Zurita to replace Villavicencio, González deemed Zurita the ideal torchbearer to advance the movement’s cause, underscoring Zurita’s unrelenting dedication to investigative journalism, his resolute stance against authoritarianism, and his unwavering determination to confront corruption head-on.
“Because he was his friend and his partner in journalistic investigative work, there is no one more suitable than him to replace him,” said Andrea González.
The Construye movement’s core emphasis on dismantling corruption networks and challenging entrenched mafias resonates deeply with Zurita’s lifelong commitment to upholding the highest standards of journalistic integrity.
Standing before the assembled press, Zurita, clad in a National Police bulletproof vest, passionately articulated his resolve to honor Villavicencio’s legacy by carrying forth their shared vision of a nation characterized by historical memory, dignity, respect, and unshakable accountability. He made a solemn pledge to stand unwaveringly against any form of collusion with criminal enterprises and expressed his unyielding commitment to sustaining the fight against corruption in all its manifestations.
“Together we did the most important work for the Ecuadorian press,” said Zurita.
By his side during Villavicencio’s assignation, Zurita said shortly after, “Fernando was my partner, my brother, he was my trusted friend. We were the best team.”
Zurita’s Journalistic Odyssey
Zurita’s remarkable journalistic journey spans several decades and encompasses a diverse array of media outlets. His formative years as a reporter for Revista Vistazo, from 1993 to 2000, provided the crucible in which his investigative prowess was honed. Subsequently, his role as Head of the Investigation Unit at the 24-Hour Newscast of Teleamazonas network further burnished his reputation as a formidable investigator.
His tenure as Investigation editor at the esteemed newspaper Expreso, and later as investigator and special editor for El Universo, granted him unparalleled insight into critical issues ranging from corruption to organized crime and drug trafficking.
The collaborative synergy between Zurita and Villavicencio bore fruit in the form of groundbreaking reports and books—and the Periodismo de Investigación portal — that laid bare corruption scandals with seismic implications. Zurita’s dedication to truth-seeking and unwavering commitment to accountability garnered him a slew of accolades, including the prestigious Jorge Mantilla Ortega National Journalism Award and the coveted Data Journalism award bestowed by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA).
Capitalizing on Collective Condolences
Zurita’s meteoric ascent to the role of presidential candidate in the wake of Villavicencio’s tragic demise has ushered in a period of uncharted waters for Ecuador’s political landscape. The unprecedented circumstances of a presidential candidate’s assassination in such close proximity to the election have prompted intense speculation about the potential for Zurita to capitalize on a collective wave of condolence and translate it into electoral support.
Historical parallels are drawn to instances in which the passing of a candidate elicited sympathy votes. The case of Abdón Calderón Muñoz, who succumbed to a fatal attack shortly before the 1978 election, offers a historical prism through which to analyze the dynamics of collective grief and its potential electoral ramifications. While Zurita’s situation differs in nuanced ways, his profound friendship with Villavicencio and their shared commitment to championing transparency and justice could conceivably resonate deeply with the voting populace.
A New Chapter for Ecuador
As Ecuador braces for a pivotal presidential election, Christian Zurita emerges as an unexpected yet compelling contender, poised to carry forward the torch of investigative journalism and unflinching anti-corruption advocacy. Armed with a storied career, an unbreakable bond with his departed friend Villavicencio, and an unwavering determination to challenge entrenched power structures, Zurita steps onto the grand stage of politics with a profound mandate: to safeguard and amplify the principles they both held dear.
During his first words as a candidate, Zurita, who was wearing a National Police bulletproof vest, recalled his friendship with Villavicencio and said, “We are going to vote for Fernando Villavicencio. The revenge against the mafias will be to vote for Fernando Villavicencio.”
The journalist added that “we are going to fulfill what he dreamed of: having a country with memory, dignity, respect and without impunity… we are not going to sit down to negotiate with any mafia. We will not do it.”
The path forward is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, yet Zurita’s resilience, fervor, and unyielding commitment to justice stand as beacons of hope in an evolving narrative of Ecuador’s trajectory.
As the nation grapples with the pain of Fernando Villavicencio’s loss and unites behind Christian Zurita, the legacy of their shared pursuit of truth and accountability reverberates not solely in the stories they unearthed but also in the ongoing struggle for a more equitable and transparent society.