AMERICA/ECUADOR - Slaying of presidential candidate brings to light criminal underworld connected with international cocaine trade

Friday, 11 August 2023 criminality   drugs  

Quito (Fides News Agency) - Six Columbians were arrested yesterday, August 10, in connection with the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio (see Fides 10/8/2023). During a police raid on an establishment in the capital city of Quito, the arrested were found to be in possession of weapons, including an assault rifle similar to those brandished in a video taking credit for the homicide which was shared on social media.
In the video, ten or so hooded individuals wielding weapons claim to be members of the Los Lobos (the wolves) gang, the second biggest one in Ecuador, with a strong presence in the city's prisons. In the video threats were made against another candidate: Jan Topic. Shortly after, another group, clad in white, their faces visible, claimed to be members of Los Lobos and denied that the organization had taken part in the candidate's killing. Villavicencio's death is the latest episode in a growing spiral of unabated violence that the country is being subjected to by criminal groups.
The violence that has erupted over the last few years is at the heart of the Ecuadorian election campaign. In 2022, the country recorded a murder ratio of 25,32 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in its history.
Causing the explosion of violence are the disputes over the control of the Columbian cocaine dealings, coveted by both local and foreign criminals - Columbians and Mexicans in particular, but Albanians too, as Fernando Villavicencio himself reported. The Lobos have ties to Albanian clans which ship the Columbian cocaine to Europe.
Paradoxically, Columbia's peace agreement with the Farc guerrilla fighters - who had a monopoly on the cocaine smuggling routes from southern Columbia to Ecuador's ports in the Pacific - has opened up a power vacuum which other criminals are trying to fill, seeing as the production of Columbian coke is currently at an all-time high.
According to Ecuadorian authorities, the Mexican cartel Sinaloa has close connections to Los Choneros, the country's largest gang, whereas their rivals, the Jalisco New Generation cartel, have formed alliances with Los Lobos. Both Ecuadorian gangs are known to collaborate, within their country, with European criminal enterprises in charge of specific routes and rackets. (L.M.) (Fides News Agency 11/8/2023)