A notorious Ecuadorian gang leader vanishes from prison and authorities investigate if he escaped

Adolfo Macías, alias ‘Fito’, is the leader of Los Choneros gang, which has links with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, according to authorities

Ecuadorian soldiers arrive at the Zonal 8 prison for an inspection in Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 7, 2024
Ecuadorian soldiers arrive at the Zonal 8 prison for an inspection in Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 7, 2024.VICENTE GAIBOR DEL PINO (REUTERS)

A convicted leader of one of the most powerful drug gangs in Ecuador has vanished from the prison where he was serving his sentence, and authorities were investigating whether he escaped like he did a decade ago from another facility.

Ecuadorian authorities reported Sunday that Adolfo Macías, alias “Fito” and leader of Los Choneros gang, wasn’t in his cell, and by Monday they hadn’t found him or explained what had happened.

The country’s correction system office said Monday that they were planning to provide more information about the case. Police general commander César Zapata told the media Sunday night that Macías had disappeared from his cell, and that they were investigating.

Ecuador’s prosecutors office tweeted Sunday that it was investigating the case as a probable “prisoner’s escape.”

Macías was convicted of drug trafficking, murder and organized crime. He was serving a a 34-year sentence in La Regional prison of the port of Guayaquil, and he was scheduled on Sunday to be transferred to a maximum security facility in the same city.

Los Choneros is one of the Ecuadorian gangs considered by authorities as responsible for a spike in violence over the past years that reached a new level last year with the assassination of the presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. The gang has links with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, according to authorities.

The politician had said that the criminal group led by “Fito” threatened him, but so far authorities haven’t directly accused Macías or his group of being behind Villavicencio’s murder.

Days after Villavicencio’s killing, Macías was moved out of La Regional to the maximum security prison in the same large complex of detention facilities in Guayaquil, but he was returned to the same lighter security prison within less than a month without any explanation.

In February 2013, “Fito” fled from a maximum security facility, but he was recaptured a few weeks later.

Los Choneros and other similar groups linked to Mexican and Colombian cartels are fighting over drug trafficking routes and control of territory, including from within detention facilities, where at least 400 inmates have died since 2021, according to authorities.

Experts and authorities have acknowledged that gang members practically rule from inside the prisons, and Macías is believed to have kept controlling his group from within the detention facility.

President Daniel Noboa, an heir to a fortune built on the banana trade, took over in November saying his government’s main objective is to reduce violence.

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