A week before his murder, slain presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio had accused Adolfo ‘Fito’ Macias of threatening him and his campaign team
Authorities in Ecuador have transferred the leader of a powerful gang accused of threatening a presidential candidate before he was slain to a maximum security prison.
About 4,000 soldiers and police officers were involved in the dawn operation to relocate Adolfo Macias, also known by his alias, “Fito”, on Saturday.
Macias, who is serving a 34-year sentence for drug trafficking, organised crime and homicide, heads the Los Choneros gang.
He was moved out of a jail with lighter security into a 150-person maximum-security prison in the same complex of detention facilities in the port city of Guayaquil.
President Guillermo Lasso said Macias’s relocation was meant for “the safety of citizens and detainees”.
“Ecuador will recover peace and security,” Lasso said in a post on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.
“If violent reactions arise, we will act with full force.”
Ecuador has been under a state of emergency following the shock assassination of anti-corruption crusader Fernando Villavicencio on Wednesday, during a campaign rally in the capital Quito.
A week before his murder, the 59-year-old former journalist had accused Macias of threatening him and his campaign team.
Villavicencio told local media that an “emissary” of the gang leader had contacted him and warned “that if I continue… mentioning Los Choneros, they are going to break me”.
Officials have blamed Villavicencio’s murder on organised crime.
Corrections officials said security forces seized weapons, ammunition and explosives during the raid to relocate Macias. Images they shared showed a bearded man in his underwear, with his hands on his head in some shots and lying on the floor with arms tied in others.
Villavicencio’s murder has drawn global condemnation, including from the European Union, the United Nations and the United States.
On Saturday, Pope Francis rejected the violence plaguing Ecuador in a message to the Archbishop of Quito, Alfredo Espinoza.
The pope condemned “with all his strength” the “suffering caused by unjustifiable violence”.
Six suspects – all Colombian nationals whom police accuse of links to criminal groups – have been charged with the murder and remain in custody after a judge ordered they stay behind bars as the criminal investigation continues.
Veronica Sarauz, Villavicencio’s widow, told reporters on Saturday that she holds the state directly responsible for her husband’s murder.
“The government still has to provide a lot of answers for everything that happened,” she said, after arriving at a press conference with an armed police escort and wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet.
Also on Saturday, Villavicencio’s party announced that his running mate will take his place in the August 20 election.
Villavicencio’s deputy, Andrea Gonzalez, 36, is an environmental activist who has fought for the protection of oceans, forests and mangroves.
While ballots have already been printed, by law, votes for Villavicencio will automatically transfer to the party candidate.
Villavicencio had been polling around the middle of the pack in a field of eight candidates before his assassination.
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 he failed to intervene to end a faulty contract between the state-owned oil transport company and a private tanker company.
Lasso is not running in the election.