An analysis of “the new wars in society,” carried out by the Police, identifies the six most dangerous criminal gangs operating in Ecuador.
It took time for the Ecuadorian state to recognize that it is waging an unconventional war against organized crime.
Different official studies define this moment in history as one of the “new wars” that several countries in the region are going through.
It is recognized by a global essay carried out by different investigative units of the National Police of Ecuador, on how to face these challenges.
In the new wars there are no hierarchical and vertical structures as in wars against conventional armies.
The new structure allows “several leaders to make decisions in an agile and decentralized manner, alliances between the most diverse organizations and it is this element that makes them so difficult to combat.”
Organized crime also encompasses a large number of actors linked to different activities.
Criminal groups such as Los Lobos, Lagartos, Chone Killers and Latin Kings, as well as other small criminal gangs, manage to group together in a kind of corporation to join forces.
While in the “old wars” the objective was the appropriation of territory, today, this territory is conquered through political control of the population, and “getting rid of anyone who has a different identity or opinion,” the document adds.
To achieve this, criminals use “psychological and economic techniques of intimidation,” which for the most part end up expelling the population.
The cause of the violent escalation that Ecuador is experiencing, especially in the province of Guayas, is due to the new routes for trafficking illicit drugs that all the gangs want to control.
“It has become much more lucrative to help ship cocaine shipments to Europe,” the report adds.
Until a few years ago, the largest market was the United States and the route used was the Pacific corridor, by sea and air.
This has led to what is called “the cockroach effect,” that is, “the fracture and atomization of the gangs,” who seek to gain control of the transport of cocaine to Europe and with internal micro-trafficking.
The studies identify a wide variety of actors who are part of a complex criminal structure, which is expressed especially in six criminal gangs, with thousands of members.
The criminal organization of Los Choneros predominates, which until the death of its leader, alias ‘Rasquiña,’ maintained leadership and cohesion among various groups in prisons and on the streets.
According to the analyses, when the prison crisis was declared in 2019 and several gang leaders were transferred to different prisons with the aim of dismantling the structures, there was a change in dynamics.
The result was an opposite effect that led to the creation of subgroups throughout the prison system and the multiplication of gang wars in the country.
It is the most prominent criminal group in Ecuador. Its origins date back to the late 1990s in the coastal city of Manta, province of Manabí, as an organization dedicated to drug trafficking.
They used the ports of that province for drug shipments. By the year 2000, they had appropriated the routes and dedicated themselves to contract killings, kidnapping and extortion.
They expanded to Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, Los Ríos, Guayas and Pichincha. Its ringleader, Jorge Luis Zambrano, alias ‘Rasquiña,’ was assassinated in December 2020.
Currently, the criminal group has been divided into Águilas and Fatales, headed by aliases ‘JR’ and ‘Fito,’ respectively, both serving prison for different crimes in the Guayas Regional Prison.
They function as the armed wing of Los Choneros and are responsible for drug trafficking, hired assassinations, robberies, and assaults, among other crimes. They operate in Guayaquil, Daule and Durán, in Guayas.
The Chone Killers are under the command of brothers Terry Israel Camacho, alias ‘Trompudo,’ and Antonio Benjamín Camacho, alias ‘Ben 10.’ ‘Trompudo’ has 20 legal proceedings against him, seven of them for murder. However, he has always managed to get out before serving his sentence.
‘Ben 10’ was released in May 2021, after a judge issued a dismissal for the crime of murder for at least eight people. According to the magistrate, there was not enough evidence against him.
They were once part of Los Choneros. They worked under its command until ‘Rasquiña’ was assassinated.
Los Tiguerones emerged at the end of the last decade in Esmeraldas. They grew stronger with illicit drug trafficking businesses and are fighting for control of the prisons with Los Lagartos, Los Chone Killers and Los Lobos.
The authorities point to Álex Salazar Villamar as one of their leaders, who was released in November 2021 after serving 60% of a 32-month prison sentence for the crime of reception i.e., the act of receiving, acquiring, hiding or taking advantage of the effects of a criminal act).
Another leader of the group is William Jofre Alcívar Bautista, alias ‘Comandante Willy’ or ‘Negro Willy,’ a former prison guard.
This gang started out as hit men for the largest criminal groups. Currently, they are also engaged in drug trafficking. Its zone of influence is in the Guasmo sector, south of Guayaquil.
According to police investigations, Los Lagartos control three pavilions of the Litoral Penitentiary.
The leader of Los Lagartos is Carlos Mantilla Cevallos, alias ‘Choclo,’ detained in the Litoral Penitentiary, his center of operations.
‘Choclo’ was involved in the murder of the television news anchor Efraín Ruales.
This criminal gang broke off from Los Choneros. They were its allies until the death of ‘Rasquiña.’ It is considered the second largest gang in Ecuador, after Los Choneros.
It is estimated that in the country’s prisons, at least 8,000 people are part of this criminal group that is dedicated to drug trafficking, linked to the Mexican Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel.
The leader of Los Lobos was Wilmer Chavarría, alias ‘Pipo,’ who operated from the Turi prison in Cuenca. There have been reports that Chavarría is in Turkey, after escaping from Ecuador with the help of the recently murdered Leandro ‘El Patron’ Norero.
However, the Police believe that he is dead, and that the new leader of Los Lobos is alias ‘Esteban,’ son of alias ‘Pipo’.
The Latin Kings gang was created in 1992 and was feared for years. Its rivalry with Los Ñetas, another transnational gang of Puerto Rican origin that was dedicated to drug trafficking, caused several violent events in Ecuador.
According to the Police, this drug gang operates in the center and south of Durán. In this canton of Guayas there is a territorial dispute with the Chone Killers, for the sale of drugs.
The investigations indicate that this group controls three pavilions of the Litoral Penitentiary. Its leader Mauricio Zúñiga was assassinated in May 2022.