U.S. Treasury Sanctions Major Ecuadorian Drug Trafficking Organization

Written by Kathrine Frich

Jun.06 - 2024 5:26 PM CET

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photo: Shutterstock
photo: Shutterstock
The U.S. Treasury intensifies the efforts to combat rising violence linked to powerful cartels.

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has announced sanctions against the Ecuador-based Los Lobos Drug Trafficking Organization and its leader, Wilmer Geovanny Chavarria Barre, also known as "Pipo." Los Lobos, with thousands of members, has emerged as a significant drug trafficking organization in Ecuador, contributing to the escalating violence in the country. This action follows the Treasury’s previous designation of Los Choneros, another major Ecuadorian drug gang, on February 7. These sanctions come as Mexican-backed criminal organizations like the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel continue to fuel violence and instability in Ecuador.

“Drug trafficking groups with ties to powerful drug cartels threaten the lives and livelihoods of communities in Ecuador and throughout South and Central America,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “As today’s actions demonstrate, we steadfastly support Ecuador in its efforts to combat drug trafficking and counter the threat of drug-related violence.”

Ongoing Crisis in Ecuador

On May 22, 2024, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared a new state of emergency in seven of the country’s 24 provinces due to ongoing gang violence. The January 7 disappearance of Los Choneros leader José Adolfo Macías Villamar from a Guayaquil prison led to widespread riots, bombings, kidnappings, the assassination of a prominent prosecutor, and an armed attack on a TV network during a live broadcast. In response, President Noboa declared a state of “internal armed conflict” on January 9 and designated 22 gangs, including Los Lobos and Los Choneros, as terrorist groups. This declaration was reinforced by an April referendum, where Ecuadorian voters overwhelmingly supported measures allowing the government broad powers to combat drug gangs, including deploying soldiers alongside police and permitting law enforcement to use weapons seized from gangs.

Targeting Another Prominent Criminal Organization

Los Lobos originated as a group of hitmen for their now-rival gang, Los Choneros. The assassination of a Los Choneros leader in 2020 created a power vacuum that Los Lobos filled by launching coordinated attacks against the fragmented leadership of Los Choneros, resulting in prison riots and numerous deaths. Los Lobos has since expanded its operations to include drug trafficking, murder-for-hire, and illegal gold mining, and they provide security services for Mexico’s CJNG to help dominate cocaine trafficking routes in Guayaquil. The organization is also accused of orchestrating the assassination of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in 2023. In response, the U.S. Department of State issued a reward of up to $5 million for information on those responsible for Villavicencio’s murder.

The U.S. Treasury’s latest sanctions against Los Lobos signify a continued commitment to supporting Ecuador’s efforts to combat drug trafficking and associated violence, aiming to restore stability and security in the region.

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