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Los Lobos

Introduction & Overview

The Lobos, the second-largest criminal group in Ecuador, comprises over 8,000 members incarcerated throughout the country. According to the local press, they predominantly operate in the Andean cities of Latacunga and Cuenca, as well as in the Amazonian province of Pastaza and in Machala along the coast. (1)

As reported by the Primicias portal, a significant portion of the Lobos members are impoverished adolescents. Similar to the Choneros, Ecuador’s largest gang, the Lobos are involved in drug trafficking. It is believed that the Lobos have connections with the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation, a Mexican transnational drug trafficking organization known as well for its involvement in arms trafficking. (2)

The decline of the Choneros' dominance in Ecuador paved the way for the Lobos to assume control of an extensive coalition of gangs, including the Tiguerones and the Chone Killers. This shift allowed them to vie for supremacy in Ecuador's prisons and drug trade, establishing connections to organized crime networks in Colombia and Mexico. Additionally, the gang has expanded its operations into the illegal mining sector.

The Lobos, alongside the Chone Killers and the Tiguerones, were born as dissident groups of the Choneros, led by Jorge Luis Zambrano, also known as Rasquiña, whom they operated under. However, Rasquiña's death in a Manta shopping mall in December 2020 lead to the separation of these groups from the Choneros, and to a power struggle among these gangs as they compete for leadership. The groups have been wrapped in a vicious gang conflict, which has since led to an unprecedented surge of violence in Ecuador. The Lobos have been involved in several bloody prison massacres in Ecuador, which left over 315 inmates dead in 2021 alone. (1,2) 

(@entre_guerras Jan 11, 2024)

History & Foundations

Violent crime linked to drug gangs drastically increased hand in hand with Ecuador’s role in the global narcotics trade. This is reflected in the murder rate, which surged from 6.7 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019 to 25.6 in 2022, before soaring again to 45 in 2023, following successive waves of gang violence since 2020. The Lobos have played a leading role in the breakdown of Ecuador's security situation, which in 2021 led the country to record the highest increase in its homicide rate in Latin America. (1)

The Prime Minister at the time, Rafael Correa, implemented a series of judiciary reforms including a more punitive penal code; this had an immediate effect on the prison population, which increased from 10,000 to 40,000. (11)

Since the arrest of the Choneros’ leader in 2011 and its ensuing integration into the prison system, the group has had a permanent presence in jails all around the country, from where they maintained operations in multiple cities. 

Ecuador's attempts to contain prison gang violence accelerated the expansion of the Choneros, leading to the creation of loyalist gangs dependent on it, which has multiplied the Choneros' influence. 

As mentioned, similar to other gangs in Ecuador, the Lobos originated as a breakaway faction from the country's former leading criminal organization, the Choneros. According to Codigo Vidrio, since 2016, the Lobos and their associates have been supplying weapons and offering security services to the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), as the latter competes for dominance over cocaine trafficking routes in Ecuador. (3)

After the death of the Choneros leader Jose Luis Zambrano in 2020, some of its allied groups, such as the Lobos, the Chone Killers and the Tiguerones, turned against the megagroup to fight it, marking the origin of the killings in Ecuador's prisons. They collectively call themselves the New Generation in reference to alleged unproven links to Mexico's Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) (1,2)

Over the next two years, the Choneros have steadily lost power to this alliance, led by the Lobos, who have taken control of the drug trafficking routes once controlled by the former.

In February 2021, the New Generation coordinated attacks against the fragmented leaders of the Choneros, with attacks on two potential successors to Rasquiña, alias "JR" and alias "Fito". Both escaped alive, but the riots left 80 inmates dead. In a major escalation of violence, another 119 inmates died in prison riots in September 2021, when members of the Choneros and the Lobos clashed in a Guayaquil prison. That same year, authorities confiscated numerous high-caliber firearms within penitentiaries under the control of the Choneros, Lobos, and Lagartos, indicating an increasing flow of weapons into Ecuador that found their way into prisons. (2,3)

In the study on the evolution of drug trafficking in Ecuador, the National Police explains that between 2021 and 2022, several members of the Lobos were transferred to different prisons in the country. This allowed their range of operations from the prisons to extend to Imbabura, Pichincha, Chimborazo, Los Rios, Napo, Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, Santa Elena, El Oro, Azuay and Loja. (4)

On April 24th 2024, police captured Fabricio Colón Pico, Los Lobos leader. He had escaped from Riobamba prison during riots earlier this year, evading capture until now. 

Objectives & Ideology

Ecuador ranks third in the world in cocaine seizures, after Colombia and the United States, according to the UNODC's 2022 World Drug Report. This means that more cocaine, more money and more weapons are passing through the hands of Ecuadorian gangs like the Lobos.

Over the past three years, the Lobos have played a leading role in the breakdown of Ecuador's security situation, which in 2021 led the country to record the highest increase in its homicide rate in Latin America. The Lobos and their allies have helped import criminal tactics into Ecuador that the country has rarely seen before, such as brutal prison massacres, the normalization of hired killings, the use of car bombs, mass attacks on police and the display of corpses hanging from bridges as a warning. (2)

Ecuador's government has come up with no new ideas to contain the Lobos, whose presence in Ecuador's organized crime scene goes beyond drug trafficking. The criminal group has expanded its range of illicit activities to include illegal mining, the commercialization of counterfeit vaccines and human trafficking. On this transformation, former Vice Minister of the Interior and security analyst Max Campos commented: "They have been changing and mutating," showing the gang's adaptation to different forms of crime. (4)

According to Campos, the Lobos dominate key areas of the criminal chain, manipulating strategic points within Ecuadorian territory to facilitate their criminal activities in an attempt to control the drug trafficking routes in the country and establish their dominance.(4)

(Turi prison is the center of operation of Los Lobos (FERNANDO MACHADO / AFP)

Military/Political Abilities

The Lobos are involved in small-scale drug trafficking in several Ecuadorian cities, including Quito, Guayaquil, and Quevedo. In March 2021, twelve Lobos members were arrested and charged with various crimes, such as drug trafficking, extortion, robbery, and illegal firearm possession. Then, in February 2022, Ecuadorian authorities apprehended ten individuals believed to be associated with the Lobos for kidnapping and murder, marking one of the largest crackdowns on the group to date.


The Lobos, along with other major gangs, have managed to penetrate the prison system through widespread corruption of officials and bribery schemes, even extending to prison directors. With many Ecuadorian prisons suffering from inadequate infrastructure and funding, gangs have taken control of these facilities, dictating movement and security within.

Inside Ecuador's gang-dominated prisons, violence mirrors the power struggles for drug trafficking routes outside. Prison riots often erupt as proxy conflicts between rival groups, with the Lobos resorting to violence in response to external confrontations. (1)

The primary criminal organizations receive funding from drug and micro-trafficking, along with extortion within prisons. They receive assistance from both public officials and private individuals working in prisons, who facilitate the smuggling of weapons, cell phones, and drugs.

In 2023, Ecuador recorded the highest homicide rate of any country in Central and South America, as spiraling criminal violence raised the number from 25.5 deaths per capita in 2022 to 44.5, an increase of 74.5% over the previous year. (9)

The Lobos have been linked to the assassination of anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in August 2023. Villavicencio faced death threats after his campaign, during which he advocated for stricter measures against corruption and a crackdown on gangs in the country. Villavicencio, an investigative journalist known for exposing corruption, had transitioned into politics as a congressman. He was fatally shot leaving a school event in Quito, with nine others injured, including a congressional candidate. Villavicencio campaigned on tackling crime, corruption, dismantling local gangs, and renegotiating deals with foreign companies for a larger state share in oil and mining. President Lasso condemned the killing, attributing it to Los Lobos. Six Colombians were arrested but later killed in prison after a shootout near Quito. Villavicencio's assassination added to a string of public figures murdered by gangs. Despite declaring a state of emergency, Lasso vowed to proceed with the election. Fundamedios, a local journalism advocacy group, lamented the state of Ecuadorian democracy, while former President Correa criticized the country as a "failed state." (11,12)

Approach to Resistance

Considered the main organized criminal group in Ecuador, according to a police intelligence report, the Lobos has been accused of crimes related to drug trafficking, murders, robberies, kidnappings, smuggling, extortion and massacres in the country's prisons. The gang is reportedly operating in the province of Imbabura, with activities dedicated to illegal mining. (8) 

The citizen platform SOS Cárceles has indicated that the attacks registered in various parts of the country in 2023 were due to the transfer of the leader of the Lobos, alias Gordo Lucho, who was relocated from Latacunga Prison to the maximum security prison La Roca. The then security secretary, Wagner Bravo, without referring to a specific criminal group, said in a radio interview that the car bombs that exploded in Quito in 2023 "are possibly repercussions of the transfers (of prisoners) that are made to the different prisons in the country. (5)

The Lobos would be the protagonists of two riots. On July 24, 2023 according to Infobae, through a source close to the prisons, that both the hunger strike and the retention of guides that then took place would be related to the authorities' intention to carry out transfers of members of the Lobos who are in the country's prisons. The Centro de Privación de Libertad de Azuay, better known as the Turi prison, is the center of operation of this gang. Previously, on the weekend of July 22 and 23, the Litoral Penitentiary, the most violent prison in the country, also recorded a massacre. (4)

The Lobos have also been ruthless when it comes to eliminating their opposition. In December 2022 and February 2023, the gang repeatedly attempted to assassinate Junior Roldan, alias "JR," one of the founders of Choneros, before he was killed in uncertain circumstances in Colombia in March 2023. (1)

To consolidate their hegemony, the Lobos also recruit members of the gangs/nations and minorities from other small gangs, who change their hegemony according to each center, the police report notes. In the Buenos Aires sector, in the Urcuquí canton, the Lobos have set up sophisticated camps to extract gold illegally, in a lucrative business that leaves losses for the Ecuadorian government of more than $900 million annually. According to the government report, alias 'Chino' would be the member of this drug trafficking organization that is in command of at least 20 armed people guarding the mining area. (8)

International Relations & Alliances

The Lobos are allied with several smaller criminal groups in Ecuador, including the Chone Killers and the Tiguerones. The groups call themselves the New Generation, which some analysts see as an homage to the Mexican cartel CJNG, which is presumed to be the main international connection of this Ecuadorian structure.

The Lobos have connections to other international actors and are linked to Balkan criminal groups, especially Albanian ones. La Nueva Generación reportedly supplies the cocaine they traffic to Ecuador's port cities. They are also linked to the 48th Front, a dissident of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

According to Insight Crime, in the country, the Lobos' biggest rival is the Choneros, Ecuador's largest gang. Although the Lobos were once allied with this group, they split in early 2021. They also maintain a rivalry with another small gang, the R7, in a conflict that has left dozens dead in 2022. (6)

Works Cited

(1) - InSight Crime, (2022) Los Lobos’ InSight Crime, 8 November, Available at:

(2) - GK, (2022), ‘¿Quiénes son Los Lobos? GK, 17 October, Available at:

(3) - Código Vidrio, (2021), ‘64% de presos integran diez megabandas’ Código Vidrio, 30 August, Available at:

(4) - Infobae, (2024), ‘Quiénes son Los Lobos, una de las poderosas bandas criminales que controla el negocio del narcotráfico en Ecuador’ Infobae, 9 January, Available at :

(5) - Loaiza. Y, (2023), ‘Caos en las cárceles de Ecuador: policías y militares intentan reponer el orden tras el decreto de Estado de Excepción’ Infobae, 25 July, Available at :

(6) - Ford. A, (2020), ‘La guerra de pandillas impulsa récord de homicidios en cárceles de Ecuador’ InSight Crime, 14 December, Available at:*rk387*_ga*ODIwMTEzNTM5LjE3MTIxNDg2NzU.*_ga_27CNJPD4K9*MTcxMzQ2MTAzOC43LjEuMTcxMzQ2MTAzOC42MC4wLjIwNTA5MTcxMzU.*_ga_DDHRSLDESP* MTcxMzQ2MTAzOC42LjAuMTcxMzQ2MTAzOC4wLjAuMA

(7) - CNN Español, (2024), ‘¿Quiénes son Los Lobos, la banda criminal de "Capitán Pico"?’, CNN Español, 11 January, Available at:

(8) -La Hora, (2022), Los Lobos están detrás de la minería ilegal, La Hora, 26 October, Available at

(9) - Manjarrés.J, Newton.C, (2024), Balance de InSight Crime de los homicidios en 2023, InSight Crime, 21 February, Available:

(10) - InSight Crime (2023) Choneros. InSight Crime. Available at:

(11) - Quesada, J.D. (2024) ‘La violencia en Ecuador, un problema nuevo muy antiguo’, El País, 13 January. Available at:

(12) - The Economist (2023) ‘An Ecuadorian presidential candidate is assassinated’, The Economist, 10 August. Available at:

Additional Resources


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