🌍 An assassination rocks Ecuador

Plus: A summer of spies

Hi there Intriguer. When most parents hear ‘outdoor weekend with the kids’, they might think camping. Or maybe the beach? But health coach Keisha Schahaff decided to step it up a notch and take her daughter to space. They’re the first mother-daughter duo to go there.

Today’s briefing is a 4 min read:

  • 🇪🇨 A political assassination rocks Ecuador.

  • 🕵️ Spies are getting nabbed everywhere.

  • Plus: Celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, how the papers are covering the surge in rice prices, and Churchill’s favourite spy.

⏱️ Around the world in sixty seconds

  1. 🇰🇵 North Korea: Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has dismissed the military’s top general, calling for the country to boost its weapons production towards “full war preparations”. It’s unclear why Kim sacked the general.

  2. 🇺🇦 Ukraine: A Ukrainian state-owned energy utility has warned the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (Europe’s largest) is on the verge of a blackout after losing connection with its last main external power line. The nuclear power plant is under Russian control.

  3. 🇻🇳 Vietnam: US President Joe Biden has said he’ll “shortly” head to Vietnam to officially elevate bilateral relations between the two countries. Vietnam has a three-tiered approach to its partnerships, with the US currently on the lower ‘comprehensive partnership’ tier.

  4. 🇺🇸 US: As widely anticipated, the White House has unveiled a new ban on US investment in China’s semiconductor, quantum and AI sectors. Beijing has labelled the decision “blatant economic coercion and technological bullying”.

  5. 🇺🇬 Uganda: The World Bank has suspended all future funding for projects in Uganda due to the country’s new anti-gay law. Ugandan officials had been working to access new World Bank loans.

🇪🇨 Ecuador | Security

Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was shot dead on Wednesday

Assassination rocks Ecuador’s presidential race

Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was shot and killed as he left a campaign rally in the capital Quito on Wednesday evening, just days before Ecuador’s first round election on 20 August.

Known for decades as a relatively peaceful haven, Ecuador has recently been hit by unprecedented violence. What’s going on?

  • 🕊️ Major rebel group FARC agreed to disband in neighbouring Colombia in 2017, after years of peace talks

  • 🚧 As Colombia took control of FARC turf, organised crime moved to find other routes to traffic cocaine out to global markets

  • 🏗️ Ecuador, with its porous borders, solid infrastructure, and Pacific ports, emerged as a natural choice

  • 🌎 Various transnational criminal organisations moved to partner with local gangs there to establish and control the main routes

The result? Ecuador’s homicide rate more than quadrupled from 2018.

In that context, Villavicencio, while not seen as a front-runner, was one of the most vocal candidates against organised crime and its state links.

So who carried out his assassination? Ecuadorian authorities killed one assailant and have arrested another six, reportedly all Colombian nationals.

Their affiliation is unclear, but Villavicencio had received death threats last week from local gang Los Choneros (linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel). Rival gang Los Lobos (linked to Mexico’s CJNG cartel) has denied involvement, after a video emerged purporting to show them claiming responsibility.

Intrigue's take: While Ecuador grapples with its first assassination of a presidential candidate in decades, the world has voiced its support, and the US is now sending FBI investigators at Quito’s request.

Transnational criminal organisations use public displays of violence in an attempt to instil fear, intimidate officials, and exert control. But this is a major escalation that will really exacerbate the sense of crisis for many Ecuadorians. Whomever they elect as president has a rough road ahead.

Also worth noting:

  • Citing the country’s constitution, Ecuador’s electoral authority says the election will still take place on 20 August as scheduled.

  • Villavicencio was polling 4th. The front-runner is Luisa González from the left-leaning party of former President Rafael Correa.

  • As a journalist, Villavicencio’s work led to the 2020 graft conviction (in absentia) of former President Correa, who now lives in Belgium.

  • Moments before his death, Villavicencio said "here, we pay for democracy with our lives." He is survived by his wife and five children.

📰 How newspapers covered…

Rising global rice prices

New York, US

“Rice Soars to Highest Since 2008 on Rising Threats to Supply”

Bangkok, Thailand

“Soaring rice prices stretch budgets for billions in Asia, Africa”

Noida, US

“India’s export ban pushes global rice prices to nearly 12-year high”

🕵️ Global | Espionage

Spying is back like it never left

Counter-intelligence officers around the world have had their hands full lately, dealing with a string of high-profile espionage cases.

Just in the past few weeks:

  • 🇹🇼 A lieutenant-colonel in the Taiwanese Army was arrested for allegedly recruiting spies on behalf of China

  • 🇺🇸 Two junior officers in the US Navy were arrested on charges of passing sensitive information to Beijing, and

  • 🇩🇪 On Wednesday (9 August), a German government official was arrested for sharing national security info with Russia.

And those are just the ones we know of…

Intrigue’s take: Spying has been around for millennia, but nations tend to place a premium on doing it (and catching it) when the stakes are highest. With a war in Europe and jitters in the Indo-Pacific, the stakes are pretty high right now.

And these latest cases are a reminder that, even as nations lean more on cyber-spying from afar, there’s still a role for the ol’ trench-coat and fake ‘stache.

Also worth noting:

🎧 Today on Intrigue Outloud

Is the US-China relationship beyond repair?

Extra Intrigue

Some suggestions from Team Intrigue to get you cartwheeling into your weekend. If you have:

📜 On this day in history

The original flyer for DJ Kool Herc’s block party in 1973

Hip-hop was born on this day 50 years ago when a young woman named Cindy Campbell threw a back-to-school party in the Bronx and got her brother Clive (aka “DJ Kool Herc”) to be the DJ. After that summer evening of 1973, hip-hop went on to become a major US cultural export and then a global genre. Here’s a quick snapshot of some classics from around the world:

🗳️ Quiz time!

1) James Bond had a recurring Soviet antagonist known as SMERSH. Was there ever such a group?

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2) The butler to the British Ambassador to Turkey sold secrets to which country during WWII?

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3) Which real-life female spy (and countess) is often referred to as "Churchill's favourite spy"?

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Answers: 1-d, 2-b, 3-b

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