U.S. sanctions Los Lobos leader ‘Pipo’ citing his connections to a Mexican drug cartel

Jun 7, 2024 | 0 comments

By Emily Mae Czachor

The United States has sanctioned Los Lobos, a powerful crime gang based in Ecuador with ties to violence across the country and drug trafficking in the surrounding region, the U.S. Treasury Department announced on Thursday.

Soldiers in an armored vehicle patrol Quito’s historic district following an emergency declaration by President Daniel Noboa in January.

Los Lobos also has a rapidly growing presence in Peru, the Treasury Department said.

Sanctions were imposed on the trafficking organization and its leader, Wilmer Geovanny Chavarria, who also goes by “Pipo,” the Treasury said in a news release. U.S. officials have deemed Los Lobos the largest drug trafficking ring in Ecuador and said the gang “contributes significantly to the violence gripping the country.” Its network includes thousands of members backed by Mexico’s Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación — New Generation — and Sinaloa Cartel, which makes the gang particularly dangerous.

“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 Brian Nelson, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a statement in the sanctions announcement. “As today’s actions demonstrate, we steadfastly support Ecuador in its efforts to combat drug trafficking and counter the threat of drug-related violence.”

The sanctions prohibit Chavarria from entering or traveling in the U.S., place him on an international no-fly list and prohibit all business dealings with him involving U.S. citizens, businesses or banks. It also allows for seizure of any property or assets he holds in the U.S.

The U.S. in February imposed similar sanctions on another organized crime group based in Ecuador — Los Choneros, as the country grappled with escalating gang violence in the wake of the disappearance of Los Choneros’ leader, José Adolfo Macías Villamar, from his prison cell in early January. Los Lobos and Los Choneros have become rival forces.

At the time, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa designated almost two dozen crime gangs, including Los Lobos and Los Choneros, as terrorist groups and said a state of “internal armed conflict” had taken hold of the country, according to the U.S. Treasury. Recently, in May, Noboa declared a new state of emergency for seven of Ecuador’s 24 provinces as a result of ongoing gang violence.

U.S. officials say Los Lobos emerged as a branch of hitmen working within Los Choneros, which rose to power independently in 2020 when a former Los Choneros leader’s assassination left cracks in the gang’s command structure.

According to Ecuadorian authorities, Los Lobos are currently involved in a “turf war” with Los Choneros to control cocaine shipping routes from Colombia to the shipping ports of Guayaquil and Manta.

Los Lobos is accused in the assassination of Ecuador’s 2023 presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, and gang members are said to be responsible for deadly prison riots in addition to drug trafficking, murder-for-hire and illegal gold mining operations.

They also provide security services for the Jalisco cartel that contribute to the cartel’s stronghold over cocaine trafficking routes around the Ecuadorian port city Guayaquil, according to the Treasury. The U.S. State Department considers New Generation “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.”
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Credit: CBS News

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