Cartel leader on ‘most-wanted’ list vanishes from prison

GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR – The leadership of a rampant Ecuadorian drug syndicate seems to have gone AWOL over the weekend. Word has come down from prison officials that Adolfo Macías, known in the underworld as “Fito,” and the head honcho of Los Choneros gang, is nowhere to be found. Investigators are on the case, attempting to determine whether this is a classic case of déjà vu, harking back to Macías’ dramatic escape from another correctional facility, 10 years prior.

Information from the Ecuadorian penal system authorities indicates that all was well until Sunday, when Macías, a resident inmate of La Regional prison based in Guayaquil’s port, was due for a transfer to a maximum security set-up within the city limits. However, his cell was found empty and his location remains a mystery.

Not wishing to circumvent procedure, the police general commander César Zapata, iterated that an extensive investigation was fully underway at a media briefing on Sunday evening. The prosecutor’s office is also on the case, investigating this incident as a potential prison escape, according to a tweet issued on Sunday.

Macías, whose rap sheet includes charges for drug trafficking, murder, and organized crime, is serving a 34-year term. His reputation is established; not only is he considered a linchpin within the Ecuadorian underworld, but he is also believed to maintain cartel ties extending into Mexico’s formidable Sinaloa cartel.

All of this, and an alleged hand in an assassination attempt against presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio last year, makes him a high-value figure in the criminal justice cycle, making his disappearance all the more disconcerting.

The movement of inmates within the penal system, especially those of high-profile, often draw suspicion and question. Such was the case when, in the immediate wake of Villavicencio’s murder, Macías was shifted to the high-security hub within the Guayaquil complex, only to be restored to his former lower security setting within a few weeks sans explanation.

While gang affiliations and violent outbreaks within maximum security jails often mirror the chaos of the streets, the recent disappearance of Macías has rankled investigators, none more so than given his past record of escapes. But with over 400 prisoner deaths attributed to inter-gang rivalry since 2021, authorities recognize the power that inmates like Macías wield within the jail ecosystem.

Despite this recent setback, the administration of President Daniel Noboa remains committed to tamping down on such instances of violence and maintain law and order within Ecuador.