US imposes sanctions on Ecuador's Los Choneros gang

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Ecuador criminal group Los Choneros and its leader, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.


Rising violence in Ecuador culminated last month in President Daniel Noboa launching a military crackdown on gangs and a 60-day state of emergency.

Authorities have tied Los Choneros to extortion, murder and drug trafficking and accuse the group of controlling Ecuador's crime-plagued and overcrowded prisons.

The U.S. action freezes any U.S. assets of the group and its leader and generally bars Americans from dealing with them, although it is unclear how many such assets the gang has.


"Drug trafficking gangs such as Los Choneros, many with ties to powerful drug cartels in Mexico, threaten the lives and livelihoods of communities in Ecuador and throughout the region," Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement.

"We stand in support of Ecuador in its fight to combat drug trafficking, curb the proliferation of prison gangs and prison violence, and take back its streets."


The Treasury said Los Choneros has been involved in drug trafficking in Ecuador since the 1990s and accused it of being a key driver of escalating violence in the country since 2020.

Jose Adolfo Macias, the leader of the gang, has been on the run since he disappeared on Jan. 7 from the Ecuadorean prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence for crimes including drug trafficking and murder.

Noboa declared a two-month state of emergency shortly after Macias, also known as Fito, went missing.

That was followed by an on-air attack by armed men on a TV station and the taking of more than 200 prison officials hostage.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)