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In the past 45 years, seven presidential candidates in Latin America have fallen victim to assassination

Published on August 14, 2023

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Two instances occurred in Ecuador: Abdón Calderón Muñoz in July 1978 in Guayaquil, and Fernando Villavicencio on August 9, 2023, in Quito.

Fernando Villavicencio, the latest victim, was a candidate from the Construye movement and was fatally shot on August 9th, 2023, as he exited the Anderson College Coliseum in Quito. This tragic incident adds to the somber list of political figures targeted in the last four and a half decades across Latin America—specifically in Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico

Abdón Calderón Muñoz (Ecuador, 1978):

Abdón Calderón Muñoz, aged 53, represented the Alfarista Radical Front in Ecuador’s 1978 presidential elections. He valiantly opposed the ruling Military Council of Government. On November 29, 1978, as he left the Masonic temple in Guayaquil, he was ambushed and wounded in a hitman-style attack. Despite being transferred to a hospital in Miami, Calderón succumbed to his injuries on December 9th.

His assassination was attributed to a general of the Armed Forces who had hired hitmen Guillermo Plin Méndez and Luis Oswaldo García Almeida, the latter known as “Gordo Lucho.”

Jaime Pardo Leal (Colombia, 1987):

Jaime Hernando Pardo Leal, aged 46, was a Colombian lawyer and politician from the Patriotic Union party. He became a candidate for the 1986 presidential election.

Tragically, he was gunned down on October 11, 1987, in Bogotá, while spending time with his family.

Pardo Leal’s assassination was linked to the Medellín cartel, and it was later recognized as part of a series of crimes against humanity orchestrated by political alliances, state security agents, drug traffickers, and paramilitaries to thwart left-wing movements.

Luis Carlos Galán (Colombia, 1989):

Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, aged 46, was assassinated on August 18, 1989, in Soacha, Cundinamarca.

Galán was a prominent figure in Colombian politics, serving as a candidate for the Presidency in 1982, 1986, and 1989.

His death, orchestrated by the Medellín cartel under the leadership of Pablo Escobar, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, and Alberto Santofimio Botero, was a shocking blow.

Galán’s murder led to the establishment of an elite police force. His campaign chief debater, César Gaviria, succeeded him and eventually became the President.

In 2016, the Colombian Council of State declared Galán’s murder a crime against humanity and in November of that year Police General Miguel Maza Márquez, who served as director of the Department in 1989, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For deliberately weakening Galán’s security plan, even though he had threats against him.

Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa (Colombia, 1990)

Like Luis Carlos Galán, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa was also assassinated before the 1990 Colombian presidential elections; he was 34 years old.

As a member of the Colombian Communist Party and the Patriotic Union (UP), Jaramillo assumed leadership following the assassination of Jaime Pardo Leal. A presidential candidate for the UP, Jaramillo was gunned down on March 22, 1990, at the Bogotá air terminal.

Despite having received death threats, he was not wearing his bulletproof vest.  A 16-year-old hitman was waiting for him at the site and shot him. He died later at the hospital.

The circumstances of his murder remain unresolved, though it was declared a crime against humanity alongside other UP members’ killings.

Carlos Pizarro Leongómez (Colombia, 1990)

Just a month after Jaramillo’s assassination, Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, a former guerrilla leader and politician, met a similar fate. On April 26, 1990, at age 38, Pizarro was assassinated in Bogotá.

A presidential candidate for the M-19 Democratic Alliance, a movement born from the demobilization of the M-19 guerrilla group, Pizarro was shot on a campaign plane by a hitman known as ‘alias Jerry,’ who later killed by Pizarro’s escorts of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS).

His death was a blow to the M-19 movement, and Antonio Navarro Wolff Pizarro’s campaign chief debater, was named his successor and came third in the 1990 presidential election.

Luis Donaldo Colosio (Mexico, 1994)

Mexican politician Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta was assassinated at the age of 44 in Tijuana, Baja California, on March 23, 1994. He was a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He had served as a representative, senator, party president and head of the Social Development Secretariat of Mexico. At the time of his death, he was a PRI candidate for the Presidency.

He was shot at a campaign rally where one of the attendees broke through a security fence. Despite attempts to save him, he succumbed to his injuries.

His killer was captured at the scene of the incident. He was a 23-year-old man named Mario Aburto Martínez. Different versions of the crime originated, one about a State conspiracy, but this was never confirmed and the official version only pointed to Aburto as responsible. Colosio was succeeded by Ernesto Zedillo, who became president in December of that year.

Fernando Villavicencio (Ecuador, 2023)

In the most recent incident, journalist and former legislator Fernando Villavicencio, aged 59, a candidate for the Construye movement, was assassinated on August 9th, 2023, as he left the Anderson College Coliseum in Quito.

The attackers reportedly used a hit-and-run style and threw an unsuccessful grenade to cover their escape. One of the attackers was shot 9 times and later died on the way to the hospital.

The investigations into Villavicencio’s assassination continue, with assurances from the authorities that those responsible will face the full weight of the law.

The untimely deaths of these presidential candidates highlight the deep complexities and challenges faced by political figures across Latin America in recent decades.


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