Ecuador’s ever more complex and violent gang landscape has been complicated by the rise of R7, a smaller group, associated with three recent prison massacres.
On July 18, at least 12 prisoners were killed and two more injured at the Bellavista prison in the central province of Santo Domingo de Los Tsáchilas, Ecuador’s prison service confirmed on Twitter. Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo blamed the violence on the R7 attacking a would-be breakaway faction, led by José Gregorio Ramírez Guerrero, alias “Goyo,” according to Ecuadorean media reports.
Upon finding out that Goyo was planning to split off from the gang, the R7 attacked. While the death toll was less than some of the prison massacres Ecuador witnessed in the last year, it remained gruesome. Carrillo told the press that police found 45 body parts scattered around the prison.
And, according to media outlet Primicias, a number of Venezuelan nationals were among the dead, including Goyo.
Authorities also announced this was the third prison massacre in 2022 to involve the R7. In May, a feud between R7 leader Marcelo Anchundia and the head of the much-larger Lobos gang, Alexander Quesada, alias “Ariel,” led to 44 prisoners also being killed at the Bellavista prison.
And in April, 20 inmates were brutally killed at Turi prison in the southern city of Cuenca, where both Ariel and Anchundia were jailed at the time.
In 2021, over 330 prisoners died in riots inside Ecuadorean prisons as a split between the country’s largest gang, the Choneros, and a slew of offshoots and rivals turned vicious. In May, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed its “deep alarm” at continued prison violence and called for a “comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system.”
While Ecuador has put some measures in place to try and curb the violence such as reducing overcrowding and moving key prisoners and gang leaders, these have so far been ineffective. Ecuador is also in the midst of a political crisis with weeks of protests over soaring costs of living having recently paralyzed the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
The ascent of the R7 has been rapid. From being an unknown entity a few months ago, this gang is now at the center of wild theories concerning Ecuador’s broader criminal dynamics.
First, the exact allegiances of the R7 are unclear. It is one of the rare gangs in Ecuador to not have been involved in the 2021 Choneros split that was at the origin of so much violence.
Back in April, it was reported that the R7 had been a small-time outfit imprisoned inside Turi prison in Cuenca. After helping the Lobos take over the prison, they were apparently mistreated, abused and humiliated by larger groups. This reportedly led the R7 to start the fighting which killed 20 prisoners in Turi, mostly Lobos members, according to Primicias.
"There are small structures that submit to the will of this larger group (Lobos) but this conflict was due to the fragmentation and the power being taken up by the R7,” said Carrillo at the time.
But since the latest outbreak of violence on July 18, reports have suggested the R7, instead of being ambitious independents, were associated with the Chone Killers. This would certainly help to explain the R7’s penchant for swift and brutal retribution on their enemies. The Chone Killers, once the armed wing of the Choneros, are being blamed for bringing Mexican-style horrors to Ecuador, such as leaving bodies hanging from bridges.
Second, the murder of Goyo in this week’s violence has become an almost conspiratorial topic of discussion. In life, he was a known but largely overlooked mid-level criminal. In death, he has found fame. In June 2021, this Venezuelan national was arrested in Manta, Ecuador, after four people were killed in a shootout, and was eventually sentenced to 34 years in prison. While at the Bellavista prison, he reportedly joined up with the R7 but allegedly sought to break off and create a rival group, alternately named as “La Nueva Escuela” or “Anubis” in the press.
However, a report by newspaper, El Diario, has implicated Goyo in a far deeper way. According to the report, Goyo was allegedly the triggerman for the December 2020 assassination of Jorge Luis Zambrano González, alias “Rasquiña.”
If confirmed, this would be a bombshell revelation.
Rasquiña was the leader of the Choneros and it is no exaggeration to state that his murder marked the first chapter in Ecuador’s ongoing spiral of violence. The search for his killer has been a major topic for Ecuadorean police ever since. InSight Crime sought official confirmation of Goyo’s link to Rasquiña’s death but received no reply.