A Multinational Effort
The Ecuadorian National Police launched a series of raids alongside Spanish police in their respective countries early on Tuesday morning, raiding several properties thought to be used as the headquarters of an international drug trafficking ring.
The raids were conducted in coordination with the prosecutor’s offices of both nations. So far, 33 properties in Ecuador and 10 in Spain have been raided by police, resulting in “several arrests, as well as binding evidence and a considerable sum of money.”
DURO GOLPE AL NARCOTRÁFICO
Al momento @PoliciaEcuador, @policia #España, @FiscaliaEcuador y @fiscal_es #España, ejecutan allanamientos a varios inmuebles, desde donde operaría una organización narcodelictiva transnacional dedicada al tráfico de drogas y lavado de… pic.twitter.com/7PPmi5tnVq
— Policía Ecuador (@PoliciaEcuador) February 6, 2024
This is the most recent attempt made by Ecuadorian authorities to restore order to the nation following the escape of the infamous drug lord and leader of the Los Choneros, Jose “Fito” Macias, who escaped from a prison in Guayaquil in early January.
While Fito has managed to avoid capture since his escape, authorities theorized the drug lord had sought to flee to Argentina after eight associates and family members of the infamous gang leader arrived in the country on January 5th, a mere two days before Fito’s escape. The family members and associates were quickly detained before being deported from Argentina back to Ecuador on January 18th.
“We know that (Fito’s) entire family was in Argentina. They have been deported to Ecuador,” Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, told RCN radio following the deportation. “Often these relatives are involved in money laundering or in the economic and operational part of the cartels and narco-terrorist groups.”
A Struggle for Peace
In response to Fito’s escape, President Noboa launched a nationwide state of emergency, which mobilized the nation’s military and established a curfew, a move that some have claimed provoked the gang members to action. Despite the mobilization, however, Ecuadorian authorities still struggle to restore order within the country. Following 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.
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 since the emergency was declared in an effort to restore order to the nation, including multiple raids on rebellious prisons, which resulted in the freeing of nearly 177 hostages as well as a raid on a hospital after it was taken over by a gang.
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.
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.