In a shocking incident that has sent shockwaves through Ecuador's political landscape, the notorious Los Lobos gang has carried out a violent action. Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent presidential candidate known for his staunch stance against corruption, lost his life in an armed attack just days before the scheduled presidential election on August 20th.
The assassination of the presidential candidate was claimed by the Los Lobos gang, who released a video proudly displaying victory signs and shouting slogans of triumph.
Villavicencio was fatally shot three times in the head by an assailant while getting into his vehicle after attending an event in the capital city, Quito, according to a statement from his campaign team to local media.
Ecuador's Attorney General confirmed via social media that the suspected perpetrator of the attack was killed in a confrontation with security forces and succumbed to injuries sustained during the exchange. The incident also left nine individuals wounded, including a congressional candidate and two police officers.
President Guillermo Lasso, confirming Villavicencio's assassination, emphasized the involvement of "organized crime" in the murder, just under two weeks before the presidential elections.
Lasso stated, "I assure you that this crime will not go unpunished. Organized crime groups have gone too far, but they will feel the full weight of the law." The Quito police reported that six individuals believed to be connected to the incident were apprehended in operations carried out.
Meanwhile, the responsibility for the assassination of anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was claimed by the Los Lobos gang. In a video shared on social media, gang members could be seen making wolf signs and celebrating their victory.
Who are Los Lobos Gang?
The Los Lobos gang is one of the well-known drug cartels prevalent in Latin American countries. Regarded as the largest drug cartel in Ecuador, the gang's actions draw eerie parallels to the terror once spread by Escobar in Colombia. The gang's tactics have caused chaos in the country, reminiscent of a similar strategy used by Escobar.
Los Lobos have become the second largest criminal organization in Ecuador, with over 8,000 members distributed in the country's prisons. The group has been involved in several bloody prison massacres in Ecuador, resulting in more than 315 inmates killed in 2021 alone.
The erosion of the Choneros' position as the dominant criminal organization in Ecuador paved the way for the Lobos to take control of a powerful federation of gangs, including the Tiguerones and Chone Killers, to compete for control of prisons in Ecuador and the narcotics trade, as well as links with organized crime in Colombia and Mexico. The gang has also become highly active in the illegal mining industry.
History Like many gangs in Ecuador, the Lobos originated as a dissident faction of the former main criminal group in Ecuador, the Choneros. They gained prominence in 2020 following the fragmentation of some of Ecuador's major criminal groups. Since 2016, Los Lobos and their allies have provided arms and security for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which vies for control of cocaine routes in Ecuador, according to Codigo Vidrio.
Traditionally, the Choneros' main rivals were the Cubanos and the Lagartos, but the deaths of leaders from both groups weakened their organizations. However, the death of Choneros' leader Jorge Luis Zambrano, also known as "Rasquiña," in 2020 left the dominant criminal organization in Ecuador without leadership.
Recognizing the weakened position of the Choneros, several gangs and factions that had declared allegiance to the larger group switched sides and formed a new alliance to challenge the weakened megagang. Among these smaller groups are the Lobos, the Chone Killers, and the Tiguerones. Together, they are collectively referred to as the Nueva Generación, possibly in reference to alleged but unproven ties to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) from Mexico.
In February 2021, the Nueva Generación coordinated attacks against fragmented Choneros leaders, targeting two potential successors to Rasquiña, known as "JR" and "Fito." Both survived, but the riots resulted in the deaths of 80 inmates.
In a significant escalation of violence, another 119 inmates were killed in prison riots in September 2021, when Choneros and Lobos members clashed in a prison in Guayaquil. That same year, authorities seized hundreds of high-caliber weapons in penitentiaries controlled by the Choneros, Lobos, and Lagartos, suggesting a growing influx of weapons into Ecuador that ended up in prisons.
After multiple days of uprisings, which left 68 inmates dead in November 2021, Ecuadorian authorities pointed to the involvement of Mexican cartels as the reason for the rampant violence in the country's prisons. Authorities allege that the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, supporting the Choneros, and the CJNG, siding with the Nueva Generación, have supplied weapons and support to Ecuadorian groups.
This wave of violence continued throughout 2022, including a bloody confrontation between the Lobos and a smaller gang known as the R7. In May, a massacre occurred in the Bellavista prison near Quito, resulting in 44 deaths. Alexander Quesada, also known as "Ariel," leader of the Lobos, ordered the attack on the rival R7 gang's leader, Marcelo Anchundia. The animosity between Ariel and Anchundia began when the latter learned of Ariel's humiliating treatment of the R7, who initially supported the Lobos.
In April, Ariel and Anchundia were both incarcerated in the Turi penitentiary near Cuenca, just a month before another separate riot resulted in 20 casualties. After the violent episode, both requested transfers, and authorities moved Anchundia to Bellavista, triggering the May massacre.
Subsequently, in November, the Lobos and their allies, the Tiguerones, were held responsible for a wave of violence that shook the entire country. This included the deaths of police officers, car bombings, and bodies hanging from bridges. These attacks were triggered by the transfers of many members from both groups from the Litoral prison in Guayaquil due to fears of losing control and criminal income. Both groups circulated pamphlets threatening brutal reprisals if the transfers continued.
The Lobos have also been ruthless in eliminating their opposition. In December 2022 and February 2023, the gang attempted to assassinate Junior Roldán, alias 'JR,' one of the founders of the Choneros, before he was killed under uncertain circumstances in Colombia in March 2023.
The GK portal reported that the group's leader was Wilmer Chavarría, alias "Pipo," who operated from the Turi prison in Cuenca. Police believe Pipo was killed in a prison riot in 2021, which resulted in the deaths of 34 inmates.
Since his death, the general rumor is that his successor is Alexander Quesada, alias "Ariel." He is described as having an aggressive demeanor, which likely led to the confrontation with Anchundia, the leader of the R7.
Given his current position, it can be assumed that Ariel has influence over the Tiguerones and the Chone Killers, strong gangs in the provinces of Esmeraldas to the north and Guayas to the south of Ecuador.
Geographic Distribution The Lobos primarily operated in the cities of Latacunga and Cuenca in the Amazonian province of Pastaza, as well as the coastal city of Machala, according to local press reports.
However, as they gained national prominence, the Lobos have consolidated their presence in maximum-security prisons. They are said to control everything within the Turi prison in Cuenca, which houses around 1,600 inmates. They also hold dominant influence in the Sierra Centro and Cotopaxi prisons on the outskirts of Latacunga. In the Litoral penitentiary center in Guayaquil, the largest in the country, they control pavilions 8 and 9, according to pamphlets published by the group in November 2022.
According to Metro Ecuador, they maintain a strong presence in smaller prisons in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Azuay, and El Oro.
The main source of income for the Lobos comes from trafficking cocaine shipments for Colombian and Mexican groups moving merchandise through Ecuador.
The country has positioned itself as a transportation hub for Colombian cocaine destined for the United States and Europe; almost a third of Colombian cocaine leaves South America through Ecuadorian ports. The Lobos and other Ecuadorian gangs have contributed to increasing Ecuador's participation in the cocaine trade.
The criminal activities of the Lobos include protecting drug shipments in port cities, debt collection, and carrying out contract killings for international partners or allied groups. In recent months, Ecuadorian authorities have discovered cocaine processing labs in Ecuador, indicating a potential evolution of large gangs like the Lobos into what authorities have termed "microcartels."
The Lobos also engage in street-level drug trafficking in Ecuadorian cities, primarily in Quito, Guayaquil, and Quevedo. In March 2021, twelve members of the Lobos were arrested and charged with various crimes, including street-level drug dealing, extortion, robbery, and possession of illegal firearms. In February 2022, Ecuadorian authorities arrested ten alleged members of the Lobos for kidnapping and murder in one of the most significant operations against the criminal group to date.
The Lobos have also taken control of a significant portion of Ecuador's illegal mining sector, becoming a major source of criminal income. Gang members reportedly control regions of illegal gold mining in the northern province of Imbabura, collecting a 10% tax on all extracted minerals.
The Lobos and other megagangs have managed to infiltrate and penetrate the prison system through large-scale corruption of prison officials and bribery schemes that reach up to prison directors. The lack of infrastructure and funding in many Ecuadorian prisons has allowed gangs to gain control of facilities, where they often oversee movements and security within cellblocks.
The violence in Ecuador's gang-controlled prisons reflects the groups' struggle to control drug trafficking routes beyond prison walls. Prison riots often serve as subsidiary conflicts between gangs, with the Lobos using violence as retaliation for confrontations outside the prison.
Allies and Enemies
The Lobos are allied with several smaller criminal groups in Ecuador, including the Chone Killers and the Tiguerones. These groups self-identify as the Nueva Generación, and for some analysts, this is a tribute to the Mexican CJNG cartel, which is presumed to be the main international connection of this Ecuadorian structure.
The Lobos have connections to other international actors and are linked to Balkan criminal groups, especially Albanians. The Nueva Generación apparently supplies the cocaine they traffic to Ecuadorian port cities. They are also linked to the Front 48, a dissident faction of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
In the country, the Lobos' main rival is the Choneros, the largest gang in Ecuador. Although the Lobos were once allies of this group, they split in early 2021. They also maintain a rivalry with another small gang, the R7, which has resulted in dozens of deaths in 2022.
Prospects Ecuador ranks third in cocaine seizures globally, following Colombia and the United States, according to the UNODC World Drug Report in 2022. This indicates that the hands of Ecuadorian gangs like the Lobos are involved in the trafficking of more cocaine, more money, and more weapons.
Over the past three years, the Lobos have played a significant role in the deterioration of security in Ecuador, leading the country to experience the highest increase in homicide rates in Latin America in 2021. The Lobos and their allies have imported criminal tactics to Ecuador that the country had rarely seen before, including brutal prison massacres, normalized contract killings, car bombings, large-scale attacks against the police, and the public display of bodies hanging from bridges as warnings.
There are few signs that this will have a swift resolution. The Ecuadorian government has not presented new ideas to contain them, and the Lobos have continued to strengthen in recent years.Güncelleme Tarihi: 10 Ağustos 2023, 16:10