GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (AP) — Authorities moved the leader of one of Ecuador’s most powerful gangs into a maximum-security prison Saturday, three days after the assassination of a presidential candidate who had denounced threats from the feared criminal.
President Guillermo Lasso said the relocation of Los Choneros leader Adolfo Macías, alias “Fito,” was meant “for the safety of citizens and detainees.”
The gang boss was moved out of a jail with lighter security into a maximum-security prison in the same large complex of detention facilities in the port city of Guayaquil.
“Ecuador will recover peace and security,” Lasso tweeted. “If violent reactions arise, we will act with full force.”
About 4,000 soldiers and police officers raided the jail where Macías was being held Saturday and seized weapons, ammunition and explosives. Corrections officials released images of the raid showing several prisoners, including Macías, who is serving a 34-year sentence for drug trafficking, organized crime and homicide.
Ecuador’s transformation into a major drug trafficking hub and the ensuing three-year surge of violence reached a new level with Wednesday’s assassination of Fernando Villavicencio during a campaign rally in Quito, the capital. The candidate, who was not a front-runner, was known for speaking up against drug cartels.
Authorities have not disclosed a motive for the killing. An Ecuadorian judge on Friday ordered preventive detention for six Colombian men described by authorities as being suspected of involvement in the slaying.
Villavicencio, 59, was one of eight registered candidates for the Aug. 20 presidential election. He had accused Los Choneros and Macías, whom he linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, of threatening him and his campaign team days before the assassination.
Villavicencio believed popular support would keep him safe.
“You’re my bulletproof vest. I don’t need one. You’re a brave people and I’m as brave as you are,” he said at a public meeting in the city of Chone, the heart of Los Choneros territory. “Bring on the drug lords. Bring on the hitmen.”
Interior Minister Juan Zapata on Thursday described the assassination as a “political crime of a terrorist nature” aimed at sabotaging the election.
The snap election was called after Lasso, a conservative former banker, dissolved the National Assembly by decree in May, acting to avoid being impeached over allegations that he failed to intervene to end a faulty contract between the state-owned oil transport company and a private tanker company. Lasso isn’t running in the election.