Ecuadorian authorities on Saturday transferred José Adolfo Macías Villamar, alias “Fito,” the ringleader of the criminal gang Los Choneros, to a maximum security prison, La Roca, in Guayaquil. Fito, who is believed to control all crime in Ecuador, was transferred three days after presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated. At the end of July, Villavicencio said that he had received a death threat from the gang leader. According to police, Los Choneros are the operating arm of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Around 3,600 police and military officers took part in the operation to take the inmate from his ordinary cell to a maximum security prison, which is located in the same prison complex in Guayaquil.
Until now, Fito, 43, had been held in Prison 4, known as the Guayaquil Regional. In the last two years, officers have carried out more than a dozen of operations to crack down on riots, but this center was untouchable.
Ecuadorian authorities filmed the transfer of the prisoner and shared the recording. In the footage, Fito appears topless, with his hands tied behind his back, lying face down in the courtyard of the prison along with a hundred other inmates. The prison system is on alert in case the transfer sparks a new prison riot, as has happened on other occasions.
Before his murder, Villavicencio said that he had been threatened by Fito. He said it was “a warning that if I keep mentioning him and his structure, they will attack me or try to kill me.” Villavicencio filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office on the recommendation of his police bodyguards, which the government had granted him after finding that he had a 97% risk of being killed.
Last March, a Guayaquil judge annulled four of his sentences. This means that Fito could benefit from early release, and finish serving his sentence outside of jail, as happened with other leaders of Los Choneros, such as Jorge “Rasquiña” Luis Zambrano and JR, who were both murdered months after being released.
Fito grew up in Manta, a coastal city in the province of Manabí, which is a strategic location for drug trafficking. He has 14 cases against him for crimes such as murder, robbery, organized crime, possession of weapons. He is serving a 34-year prison sentence, and has been behind bars for 12 years. During that period, he escaped from a maximum security with 16 other prisoners and was on the run for 10 months.
Fito is now back in that same maximum security prison. The operation took place at dawn and lasted eight hours. During the operation, officers seized 3,400 grams of marijuana, 937 grams of cocaine, 147 bullets, 195 fireworks, and other unauthorized items such as refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, speakers, sound equipment, and cellphones, according to a bulletin released by the Ecuadorian government.
Fito’s rise to the leadership of Los Choneros occurred as a result of the murder of gang leader Rasquiña. Los Choneros gained a reputation as hitmen, although over time they expanded their list of crimes to extortion, robbery and drug trafficking. They were the first to form links with foreign cartels.
The death of Rasquiña at the end of 2020 sparked a violent power struggle that led to massacres in Ecuador’s prisons. Nearly 300 inmates were killed in 2021. It was decided that Fito and JR would be in charge of Los Choneros, but Fito’s appointment divided the criminal group, which split into rival factions. Some of these splinter groups now work with Mexico’s Jalisco New Generation cartel.
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