Ecuador has declared a nationwide state of emergency after the country’s most wanted drug trafficker mysteriously vanished from prison on January 7th.
Notorious Drug Lord Goes Missing
Adolfo Macías, also known as Fito, is the leader of Los Choneros, considered Ecuador’s most powerful and dangerous drug gang. According to authorities, Macías simply disappeared from his cell in the maximum security La Roca prison in Guayaquil.
“It is unprecedented how a maximum security prison was breached in this way,” said Ecuador’s president Guillermo Lasso in a televised address, “Mr. Macías appears to have simply vanished without a trace from his cell.”
|Leader of Los Choneros drug gang
|Considered Ecuador’s most dangerous trafficker
|Most wanted man in Ecuador
|Held in max security La Roca prison
|Vanished from cell on January 7th
|Disappearance sparks national emergency
A massive nationwide manhunt involving thousands of police and military personnel has been launched to find Macías.
Authorities are investigating if Macías escaped from La Roca prison or if his disappearance is the result of foul play. According to Interior Minister Juan Zapata, they have not ruled out any possibilities.
Los Choneros Gang Background
Los Choneros was founded by Macías over 25 years ago in Ecuador’s coastal province of Manabi. Based originally in the city of Manta, the gang expanded rapidly under Macías’ leadership into a transnational drug trafficking organization with ties to Mexican cartels.
The gang controls territory along Ecuador’s coast, forming part of the country’s Pacific drug smuggling route. Los Choneros has been linked to international drug shipments seized by authorities in Europe, Africa and Asia.
According to Ecuador’s organized crime task force, the gang smuggles over 50 metric tons of drugs abroad annually, mostly cocaine and heroin produced in Colombia and Peru. The illegal profits run into billions of dollars.
Los Choneros has a reputation for extreme violence and cruelty. The gang is notorious for beheading rivals and publicly displaying body parts as a warning. Over the decades, Los Choneros has corrupted law enforcement and politicians to operate with near total impunity.
|Los Choneros Background
|Founded by Adolfo Macías
|Based originally in Manta, Manabi province
|Formed 25 years ago
|Controls coastal smuggling routes
|Ties to Mexican cartels
|Ships drugs to Europe, Africa, Asia
|Estimated $ billions in profits
|Uses extreme violence against rivals
|Deep official corruption
|Near total impunity before 2022
Government Struggles Against Gangs
Ecuador has struggled for years to control organized crime and violence linked to international drug gangs like Los Choneros.
A lack of resources, chronic corruption, and poor coordination between security agencies has prevented authorities from making significant progress reining in groups like Los Choneros.
The situation deteriorated significantly between 2020 and 2022 after former Ecuador president Lenin Moreno cut funding and support for law enforcement and prisons. Hundreds died in riots and clashes between rival gangs vying for control behind bars.
Moreno’s successor Guillermo Lasso campaigned on getting tough on organized crime. But effecting change has proved difficult with weak institutions and the ongoing influence of captive politicians linked to gangs.
State of Emergency Declared
Macías mysterious disappearance was the final straw, prompting Lasso to take drastic action. With a dangerous fugitive on the loose, authorities fear increased violence as rival groups move to fill the power vacuum.
On January 8th, Lasso announced a month long nationwide state of emergency granting special powers to security services. A daily curfew from 9 pm to 5 am has been enacted. Military forces are coordinating with police to lock down cities and search for fugitives.
In a televised address, interior minister Juan Zapata told Ecuadorians “Exceptional measures were needed to deal with an exceptional threat posed by organized crime.”
The emergency declaration has seen:
- 60,000 joint police-military personnel deployed nationally
- Curfews enacted in all major cities
- Increased security at borders and airports
- Cell phone signal boosters installed at prisons to stop illegal use
- Joint federal investigation team formed to solve Macías’ disappearance
Prison Riots Break Out
The emergency measures have led to clashes at multiple prisons around Ecuador on January 9th.
Inmates from Los Choneros and rival groups rioted and took guards hostage to protest increased security. Authorities said it was an organized effort to force concessions from the government.
Riots broke out at prisons in Cuenca, Latacunga and Ambato. Police special forces units were sent to regain control and free hostages taken by inmates.
According to Ecuador’s prison authority, the situation has now stabilized but remains tense. However new riots cannot be ruled out.
Outlook: Increased Violence Feared
Security analysts fear Macías’ disappearance and pressure on organized crime groups could spark a period of heightened violence. Los Choneros may lash out to reassert dominance and control of lucrative smuggling routes.
There is also the risk rival Mexican groups like the Sinaloa Cartel could be drawn by the power vacuum to try taking over part of Ecuador’s Pacific drug corridor. According to organized crime expert James Bosworth, “This could unleash cascading violence as local groups ally with rivals to defend their turf.”
For Ecuador’s government, getting control of the situation will require targeting the endemic graft and corruption that allows groups like Los Choneros to thrive, Bosworth says. That political challenge for President Lasso could prove even more difficult than catching Ecuador’s most wanted fugitive.
Ecuador now finds itself in a precarious situation after the unprecedented disappearance of drug lord Adolfo Macías from a maximum security facility.
A dangerous criminal is on the loose while violent groups vie for power. Battling deeply embedded organized crime after years of state neglect will not be easy.
President Lasso has taken firm initial steps by mobilizing federal forces, enacting curfews and declaring a national emergency. But long term progress cracking down on drug cartels and reducing endemic corruption could still remain elusive.
How Ecuador fares in the coming weeks and months containing prison violence and recapturing its most wanted trafficker will be an important test of Lasso’s ambitious security policy agenda. The stability of the entire country hangs in the balance.
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