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Gang leader suspected by FBI of political assassinations disappears from Ecuadorian cell, sparking manhunt

Police are hunting Adolfo Macías Villamar, the leader of the powerful Los Choneros gang, which authorities believe orchestrated some of the most dangerous, recent prison riots throughout the country

Militares de Ecuador en puesto de control
Militares de Ecuador en puesto de control | EFE

January 8, 2024 9:13am

Updated: January 9, 2024 7:58am

An unprecedented manhunt has sent hundreds of Ecuadorian law enforcement agents on the lookout for a convicted gang leader who disappeared from his prison cell.

Police are hunting Adolfo Macías Villamar, the leader of the powerful Los Choneros gang, which authorities believe orchestrated some of the most dangerous, recent prison riots throughout the country.

Macías Villamar, who is commonly known throughout the South American country as “Fito,” was being held in the maximum-security wing of a jail in Guayaquil, where he has spent the past 12 years.

He took over as leader of the Los Choneros from prison after Jorge Luis Zambrano was killed in December 2020.

The gang, which is connected to Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel, is named after its power base in the town of Chone and is widely known for drug trafficking and extortion.

According to the Ecuadorian government, correction officials detected the disappearance of their prison’s most notorious inmate Sunday morning, and after a prison wing search, failed to locate him.

Macías Villamar is currently under investigation as a possible co-conspirator in the assassination of presidential candidate of Fernando Villavicencio on August 9, whom he reportedly sent death threats.

ADN reported on the assassination in August when Villavicencio was suddenly shot dead by masked assailants at a political rally. A former investigative journalist, he was known as a crusader against organized crime who fought for the rights of people who wanted to live free from fear.

Shortly after the tragic killing, the Ecuadorian government announced a transnational joint murder investigation with the United States and offered a $5 million reward.

“The United States will continue to support the people of Ecuador and work to bring to justice individuals who seek to undermine democratic processes through violent crime,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken, announced at the time.

That attack came six months after the February 2023 assassination of Omar Menéndez, another candidate running for mayor in Puerto López was killed by gunmen who burst into his campaign headquarters and began shooting. An innocent teenage bystander was also killed in that attack.

Macías Villamar is known for his defiant personality. He recently released a “narcocorrido” music video glorifying his past crimes, which he recorded inside the prison.

In the video, Macías Villamar reportedly sang along with his daughter, known throughout the country as Queen Michelle, calling her father a “man of honour,” according to a report published by the BBC.

“I take my hat off to you, Fito, my Dad,” Michelle is depicted saying in the video. She also said that “through his veins good blood flows.”

The video, designed to show a more friendly side of the notorious gangster talking it up with other prison inmates and fighting a rooster in a cockfight style scenario.

Authorities said that the production of the video was evidence that the gangster and his daughter violated prison regulations and the ban on taking and using electronic devices inside the correctional institution.

Ecuadorean officials are still searching for Fito and have not determined if he is hiding somewhere within the correctional complex or if he made it off the grounds somewhere in the port city.

ADN has reported that political assassinations and murders have increased in Ecuadorean port cities throughout the past year because organized crime has been trying to take control of the areas to stave off law enforcement to halt their drug imports and exports.

One police commander said he could “neither confirm nor deny” that Macías Villamar actually escaped or when he actually managed to get out of his cell, but that hundreds of officers scoured the regional jail in Guayaquil prison, which consists of 12,000 inmates who are housed under five separate penitentiaries.

While Macías Villamar has spent the past dozen years behind bars, he was transferred in August to a smaller jail known as La Roca in the same complex.

He was transferred back to La Regional after Macías Villamar lawyers argued the wing did not provide an adequate level of safety for the notoriously known gang leader.

If Macías Villamar made it out of the actual Guayaquil prison complex, it would not be his first time.

In 2013, he broke out of La Roca with 17 other inmates and escaped in boats on the river Daule, only to be quickly apprehended along with his brother four months later at their mother's home in the city of Manta. 

His brother is also another member of Los Choneros. He has remained imprisoned steadily in the Guayaquil prison complex for the past decade since that last escape.

In November, ADN reported that Ecuadorean police arrested the purported leader of Los Lobos in November, a powerful criminal enterprise involved in drug trafficking.

In that case, the leader’s gang deputies opened fire at the arresting officers.

Los Lobos, which is Spanish for “The Wolves” is a powerful drug trafficking gang believed to have enlisted about 8,000 members. It is widely known of the most powerful criminal enterprises in the Andean country.

That gang also has purported connections with a Mexican drug cartel—the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG).

Los Lobos is known for collaborating with the CJNG to smuggling cocaine from Colombia through Ecuador's port cities across the Atlantic to Europe and through the Caribbean to the United States.

Ecuador has endured a massive crime wave for the past five years, resulting in the assassination of local mayors of port towns where drug cartels are operating.

Reports indicate that the South American country’s murder rate has quadrupled between 2018 and 2022.

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.