GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (AFP): Ecuador transferred a powerful gang leader, accused of threatening a presidential candidate before he was slain, to a maximum security prison via a massive military and police operation on Saturday, officials said.
At dawn some 4,000 heavily armed agents entered Prison 8 in Guayaquil in southwestern Ecuador, where the head of the powerful Los Choneros criminal group, Jose Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito,” was being held.
Images shared by security forces showed a bearded man in his underwear, with his hands on his head in some shots and lying on the floor with arms tied in others.
Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso reported on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, that “Fito” had been transferred to La Roca, a 150-person maximum security prison that is part of the same large penitentiary complex he was already in.
The gang leader had controlled at least one cellblock in the prison from which he was removed.
Ecuador has been under a state of emergency after the shock assassination Wednesday of journalist and anti-corruption crusader Fernando Villavicencio.
Lasso has blamed the murder on organized crime, and Villavicencio had complained of receiving death threats from Macias.
A week before the 59-year-old was killed, he had said that “Fito” was threatening him.
Villavicencio told a local program that an “emissary” of the gang leader had contacted him and warned “that if I continue… mentioning Los Choneros, they are going to break me.”
On Saturday his party announced that his running mate, Andrea Gonzalez, would take his place in the August 20 election.
Gonzalez, 36, is an environmental advocate who has fought in particular for the protection of oceans, forests and mangroves.
Villavicencio drew the ire of gangs and drug traffickers for his investigations.
Six Colombians have been arrested in his murder, while a seventh was killed in a shootout with his bodyguards. Authorities haven’t said who hired and paid the hitmen.
“Fito” had been sentenced to 34 years in prison for organized crime, drug trafficking and murder.
Prisons have become the center of operations for drug trafficking in Ecuador.
More than 430 inmates have died violently since 2021, dozens of them dismembered and incinerated amid disputes between rival gangs.
The global community has condemned Villavicencio’s murder, including the UN, United States and European Union.
On Saturday, Pope Francis rejected the violence plaguing Ecuador in a message to the Archbishop of Quito, Alfredo Espinoza.
The pope condemned “with all his strength” the “suffering caused by unjustifiable violence.”