Ecuador’s ‘Most Wanted’ Criminal Has Disappeared From Prison: What to Know

Bianca Echa

Ecuador’s ‘Most Wanted’ Criminal Has Disappeared From Prison: What to Know

Thousands of authorities in Ecuador are engaged in a manhunt to locate one of the country’s “most-wanted” criminals, after officials revealed Sunday that he had disappeared from his prison cell at a detention center in the port city of Guayaquil.

Ecuador’s Prosecutor’s Office said it has opened an investigation into the alleged escape of José Adolfo Macías Villamar, notoriously known as Fito, from Litoral Penitentiary, the country’s largest and supposedly most-secure prison complex. This came as Ecuador’s national police commander General Cesar Zapata told reporters during a press conference on Sunday that armed forces noticed an inmate in the prison was missing. 

To date, Fito’s whereabouts and means of escape remain unknown. Presidential spokesperson Roberto Izurieta said at the press conference that more than 3,000 law enforcement personnel are now trying to locate him.

“We cannot, as you understand, give many details of this operation,” Izurieta said. “We are convinced that with the support of the armed forces and the police, and their professionalism, we will finish this search successfully.”

Who is Fito?

Known as one of Ecuador’s most dangerous criminals, Fito is the leader of Los Choneros, a prison gang that engages in drug trafficking and extortion. With many of its members imprisoned, it holds sway over the South American country’s penitentiaries that have been consistently neglected by the government. Like other gangs, Los Choneros’ criminal activity is believed to extend outside the prison walls, even reportedly functioning as an operating arm of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Fito had been detained since 2011, but he only became leader of Los Choneros after the murder of former head Jorge Luis Zambrano González (who was known as Rasquiña) in 2020. Fito was serving a 34-year sentence for drug trafficking, organized crime, and homicide. 

But the 44-year-old gang leader has a history of getting out of his imprisonment: in February 2013, he escaped from La Roca, a maximum security prison in the Litoral Penitentiary complex, with 17 others and had been on the run for months before being caught in May that year.

Fito has also been linked to a more recent prominent political assassination. In the lead-up to the country’s presidential election last year, candidate Fernando Villavicencio—who spoke out against Ecuador’s powerful drug cartels—was killed in the capital Quito in August. Days before his death, Villavicencio said he and his team had received threats from Fito and Los Choneros. Three days after the assassination, Fito was transferred back to the La Roca maximum security prison.

What is happening in Ecuador?

Violence has shaken up Ecuador, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, and governments have failed to rein in organized crime. The country now has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America.

Experts and politicians blame the scourge partly on gangs’ fight for power—especially after the death of Los Chonero’s Rasquiña. Cocaine trafficking groups have also had increasing influence in recent years, flourishing amid a weak domestic economy.

At the beginning of 2024, new President Daniel Noboa said he plans to hold a referendum to tighten security measures in Ecuador—including lengthening jail terms for serious crimes.

SOURCE

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