Residents of a city in western Ecuador elected a man as their new mayor on Sunday, hours after he was killed. Mayoral candidate Omar Menendez won more than 46% of the vote in Sunday’s election in Puerto Lopez.

A file photo from his Facebook page shows Omar Menendez, a mayoral candidate in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, on the campaign trail.

Facebook/Omar Menendez

Menendez was fatally shot Sunday night, hours before the polls opened, in an office building by unknown gunmen on motorcycles. A 16-year-old boy was also injured in the attack and died of his wounds.

On Monday, Menendez was buried at a local cemetery after being declared the winner of the election. The regional branch of his Civic Revolution political party recognized his victory and said another member, Veronica Isabel Lucas Marcillo, would take over as mayor in Menendez’s name.

The wife of the murdered politician, Genesis Gonzalez, posted a message on Sunday on her Facebook page paying tribute to Menendez.

“You taught me to love, to learn and to keep moving forward. No fear, but you never taught me to do it without you,” Gonzalez said in the post.

She said that her husband always sought only to improve his city for its people, and that she was sure that she would see him again – and when she did, she promised to tell him how the people of Puerto López supported him until the very day. the end

Menendez was the second local mayoral candidate to be killed in Ecuador in two weeks – part of a much wider a wave of murders and violence linked to organized crime.

Sunday’s local elections coincided with a national referendum on whether Ecuador should allow its citizens to be extradited to other countries if they are accused of ties to organized crime.

No results were announced after 10 hours of voting on Sunday, and the authorities have 10 days to count the ballots and then announce the results of the referendum.

Ecuador’s conservative president, Guillermo Lasso, has proposed changing the country’s constitution to allow extradition as a way to combat a wave of violent crime that has swept the country, including assassinations of politicians.

Ecuador is sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest producers of cocaine, and has itself become the center of the global drug trade in recent years.

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Despite the fact that Ecuador has no large drug plantations, no cartels, and no large cocaine processing laboratories, the United States includes Ecuador among the 22 countries in the world that are the largest drug producing or transit countries.

Drugs produced elsewhere are shipped from the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador to the United States, Europe and Asia. This led to a bloody turf war between the gangs, some of whom have connections Mexican cartels according to the authorities — who are brutally killing each other on the streets and in Ecuador’s overcrowded prisons.

The country’s homicide rate nearly doubled from 14 to 25 murders per 100,000 residents from 2021 to 2022, according to official data.

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