Ecuador is becoming a narco-state

Few political assassinations will have been as predictable as Fernando Villavicencio’s, the Ecuadorian presidential candidate and anti-corruption firebrand gunned down in Quito this week.  The brutal murder took place in a country that in recent decades has been largely free of serious political violence, notwithstanding the ferocious inter-party struggles that have seen both coups and the persecution and exile of opponents.  Yet Villavicencio, a 59-year-old former investigative journalist, did not just anticipate his demise – he repeatedly cited the death threats he was receiving from the drug traffickers he vowed to crack down on. And at times, he almost appeared to welcome the danger.  Just last week, he namechecked the

A hymn to the hummingbird — one of the most astonishing organisms on Earth

Along with coral reefs and their fish, tropical butterflies and birds of paradise, hummingbirds must be among the most beautiful organisms on Earth. Yet for anyone who has never seen one in the flesh, it is difficult to convey the psychological effects of a first encounter. For beauty is only half the hummingbird story. Their impact is doubled somehow by the minuscule size of the creatures. How could anything so small, you wonder, embody so much life force? Even in ordinary flight the wings beat at 80 times a second, and in certain display modes this can rise to 200. The old name — ‘humbird’ — better expresses the electric

An orange or an egg? Determining the shape of the world

Thirty-two years ago the young Nicholas Crane, who would go on to become one of England’s most esteemed television geographers, set out to woo a young woman by spiriting her off to the unfailingly romantic landscape of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi. The couple spent their high-altitude idyll walking the hills in hobnail boots, making river passage in dugout canoes and boarding a Quito-bound steam train through the Andes, run by the estimable Empresa de Ferrocarriles Ecuatorianos. Their journey had its moments: at one stage both parties were to be found at 13,000 feet, crusted with ice and huddled overnight from the gales inside a pair of plastic rubbish bags; they then