Two more prison riots in Ecuador look to have put an end to any possibility of peace between prison gangs, with frequent massacres having claimed the lives of hundreds of prisoners in just two years.
A riot at Guayas prison in the port city of Guayaquil left at least 13 people dead, according to an October 6 statement by Ecuador’s national prison service (Servicio Nacional de Atención Integral a Personas Adultas Privadas de la Libertad - SNAI).
The news came two days after a riot erupted at Cotopaxi prison near Latacunga, and led to the deaths of at least 16 people, with another 43 injured. Since February 2021, prison riots in Ecuador have claimed the lives of almost 400 people, according to France24.
These massacres come months after several prominent gang leaders announced their willingness to take “the first step … towards peace talks,” as InSight Crime previously reported.
The riot at Guayas prison was likely in response to the death of Leandro Norero, alias “El Patron,” who was killed during the massacre at Cotopaxi, according to Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo.
Norero was a high-level money launderer and financier of drug trafficking for the Ecuadorian prison gang, the Lobos. He was serving time following his arrest in May 2022 as part of an anti-money laundering operation. He had also worked with many of the country’s most notorious criminal outfits including the Tiguerones, Lagartos, and Chone Killers, newspaper Primicias reported.
According to sources cited by Primicias, Norero desired to create a "single criminal bloc" between Ecuador’s major rival gangs, the Choneros and the Lobos, hoping to monopolize Ecuador’s drug trade. He reportedly sent negotiators to discuss the plan with the Choneros leaders but did not seek approval from the Lobos' leadership. Police believe that the Lobos, angered by Norero’s attempts at unification without their consent, ordered his murder, Primicias reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
Norero was one of the only high-ranking gang members seeking to reach an agreement between Ecuador’s rival gangs and create a more stable environment for all to carry out their criminal economies. With his murder, that prospect looks unlikely.
Norero’s dealings with many of Ecuador's gangs are part of why he may have thought he could achieve an alliance. The riots resulting in Norero’s death mark another phase of violence in Ecuador's prisons, and any potential peace talks appear to now be off the table, local journalist and organized crime expert Arturo Torres told InSight Crime.
Several years ago, Norero was a trusted confidant of the former leader of the Choneros, Jorge Luis Zambrano González, alias “Rasquiña.” Norero handled the business end of the Choneros' operations.
SEE ALSO: Choneros Profile
After Rasquiña’s assassination in December 2020, turmoil enveloped Ecuador’s criminal landscape. To take advantage of the power vacuum, groups that had once been staunch allies of the Choneros changed sides. The Tiguerones and the Chone Killers, once sub-groups within the Choneros, joined forces with the Lobos.
For the Choneros, an internal power struggle materialized between the gangs' remaining bosses. Adolfo Macías, alias “Fito,” and Junior Roldán, alias “JR," emerged as the leaders, angering Norero.
Norero began financing the activities of the Lobos faction and fell out with Fito and JR, who didn’t trust Norero due to his business dealings with rival gangs, according to Torres.
The souring of Norero’s relationship with the Choneros may have helped the Lobos' rise to national relevancy since the group’s emergence aligns perfectly with Norero's involvement in their finances. Despite his participation in the success of the Lobos, asking for an alliance with rivals appears to have been one step too far.