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

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — A convicted leader of one of Ecuador’s most powerful drug gangs 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.

Ecuador’s prosecutors office tweeted Monday that it had filed charges against two prison guards as part of the investigation into the case which it is considering as a “prisoner’s escape.”

Also Monday, President Daniel Noboa announced that he decided to decree a national state of emergency, a measure that lets authorities suspend people’s rights and mobilize the military in places like the prisons.

Without directly mentioning the gang leader’s disappearance, Noboa said in a message on Instagram that he won’t stop until he “brings back peace to all Ecuadorians,” and that his government has decided to confront crime inside the prisons.

The decree will be in effect for 60 days. States of emergency were widely used by Noboa’s predecessor, Guillermo Lasso, as a way to confront the wave of violence that has affected the South American country.

Police general commander César Zapata told the media Sunday night that Macías had disappeared from his cell, and that they were investigating.

Macías was convicted of drug trafficking, murder and organized crime. He was serving 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 authorities consider responsible for a spike in violence 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 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 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.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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