68 Gang Members Arrested Following Attempted Hospital Takeover, Ecuador

An Attempted Siege

Ecuadorian authorities successfully arrested 68 members of an unidentified gang on Sunday following the group’s attempted takeover of a hospital located in Yaguachi, located in the province of Guayas, after one member suffered injuries from an unknown source.

Authorities were contacted following the beginning of the attempted takeover. Both police and military units carried out a joint operation that spanned two buildings: the hospital and a “supposed rehabilitation center” located in a nearby home.

Colonel Julio Camacho, Police Commander of Zone 5, which contains Yaguachi, confirmed the suspects were residing in “a supposed rehabilitation center,” where drugs and firearms were recovered.

“In this center of supposed rehabilitation, it has been the command center of all these people,” Colonel Julio Camacho, Police Commander of Zone 5, which contains Yaguachi, told the press before stating that both drugs and firearms were also located within the rehab center, which also operated as a brothel.

Thousands of rehab centers have been shut down by health authorities due to providing insufficient patient care, while others have suffered closure due to various tragedies, such as a case in which 18 people died after being locked up in a fire in 2018.

Many of these abandoned centers have been claimed by gangs who use the building as a center to distribute narcotics and practice other illicit activities, while others are used by the gangs for torture and human trafficking.

A Fight to Restore Order

Ecuadorian authorities have struggled to restore order across the country following the escape of infamous gang leader Jose “Fito” Macias from the prison in Guayaquil. And Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa’s declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, which mobilized the nation’s military and established a curfew in response to the escape, may have prompted the violent reaction by gang members. After the outbreak of violence, President Noboa issued a presidential decree that recognized “the existence of an internal armed conflict,” classifying the gangs as terrorist organizations.

Ecuadorian President, Daniel Noboa, assumed office in November with promises to reduce crime rates and bring back jobs to Ecuador (Photo – AFP)

The gangs classified as terrorist groups include Aguilas, AguilasKiller, Ak47, Caballeros Oscuros, ChoneKiller, Choneros, Corvicheros, Cartel de las Feas, Cubanos, Fatales, Ganster, Kater Piler, Lagartos, Latin Kings, Lobos, Los P.27, Los Tiburones, Mafia 18, Mafia Trébol, Patrones, R7, and Tiguerones.

Authorities have undergone various operations this week in an effort to restore order to the nation, including multiple raids on rebellious prisons, which resulted in the freeing of nearly 177 hostages and the arrest of those responsible for holding a TV station hostage.

Authorities further report seizures of weapons and narcotics daily, with nearly ten tons of narcotics being seized by authorities on Sunday, while nearly three tons of narcotics were seized alongside “an arsenal of long-range weapons and ammunition” in a separate raid.

“Since the beginning of the crisis, we have deployed more than 30 thousand operations, with 5 terrorists killed, more than 80 operations against terrorist groups, and the arrest of more than 3 thousand criminals, including 158 suspected terrorists.” The International Police of Ecuador posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The current whereabouts of Fito are unknown; however, family members of the infamous gang leader were deported from Argentina back to Ecuador on Thursday after their arrival in the country a mere two days before Fito’s escape from prison. Authorities reported they had detained eight people who arrived in Argentina on January 5th, two days before Fito’s escape from an Ecuadorian prison. Local media reported the family had purchased a house in November, while authorities have theorized that Fito planned to escape to Argentina following his escape from prison.

Fito’s family, enroute from Argentina. (Photo – Reuters)

“We know that (Fito’s) entire family was in Argentina; they have been deported to Ecuador,” Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, told RCN radio on Friday. “Often these relatives are involved in money laundering or in the economic and operational part of the cartels and narco-terrorist groups.”

Who is Fito?

Fito was born in 1979 in Manta, a coastal city in the province of Manabí, where authorities believe Fito’s gang, Los Choneros, emerged from. While Fito’s early life is unknown, his criminal record spans decades and includes charges such as murder, robbery, murder, manslaughter, illicit association, organized crime, possession of weapons, attack on life, and crime against property.

Fito is currently one of Ecuador’s most wanted criminals, but his mother, Marisol Villamar, denies his connection to the criminal underworld.

“He’s being investigated for everything,” she said. “They accuse him of selling drugs, stealing cars, and even stealing chickens. For everything that happens in Manta, they want to hold him responsible,” Villamar told an interviewer in a 2017 article published by the local newspaper El Diario de Manta.

Fito upon his re-arrest in 2013. (Photo – Reuters)

Following the death of Los Choneros’ leader José “Rasquina” Zambrano in December 2020, Fito and Junior Roldan were left in charge of the gang, but the latter was killed shortly after exiting prison, leaving Fito as its sole leader, with many suspecting him of orchestrating Roldan’s death.

Fito was first imprisoned in 2011 on charges of drug trafficking and organized crime before escaping prison alongside 17 other Los Choneros members in February 2013 before being recaptured in May later that year.

Los Choneros was formed sometime in the 1990’s by Jorge Bismark Véliz España, who was also known as Chonero and Teniente España. The gang would start out with only a handful of members before a conflict arose between the Los Choneros and the Los Queseros. The Los Choneros would defeat their rivals, completely destroying the gang, and with their victory, they would grow to become a major player in Ecuador’s criminal underworld.

The gang is thought to be affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel, acting as an intermediary for drug smuggling along the coastline of Ecuador, the gang’s prime territory. The gang is also known for contract killing, extortion, human trafficking, money laundering, murder, kidnapping, and arms trafficking.

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent Barr is an Intelligence Analyst for Atlas News. He has years of experience and is trained in open source intelligence gathering. Trent Barr specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs while also holding an interest in Europe as a whole.


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