How Narco Traffickers Unleashed Violence and Chaos in Ecuador

But the country’s interior minister, in a WhatsApp voice message to The Times, said the wave of violence was a response to increased government pressure on crime groups, including more drug seizures and moving many gang leaders to maximum-security prisons.

“So, of course, this generates these levels of violence,” said the minister, Juan Zapata. “This shows the strength of the state’s response.”

The candidates running on Sunday have all emphasized their security credentials, especially after Mr. Villavicencio’s assassination. But there is also widespread pessimism about the government’s ability to regain control from violent groups that hold sway in many parts of the country.

Six men arrested in connection with Mr. Villavicencio’s killing are Colombian nationals, adding to a sense that outside forces are contributing to Ecuador’s slide into seemingly unstoppable violence.

Days after Mr. Villavicencio was shot dead, a local leader of a national political party in the coastal province of Esmeraldas was assassinated, the third politician killed in the past month.

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