“We will go to the ultimate consequences,” were the words with which Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza warned members of the Los Tiguerones gang that authorities in the South American country are targeting them after an attack in the port of Esmeraldas, which left nine fishermen dead during the second week of April.
While the violent attack brought one of Ecuador’s most dangerous criminal groups back into the public eye, it was just the tip of the iceberg of the wave of violence that Ecuadorian gangs have unleashed by allying with Mexican drug cartels, including the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Shots fired, explosions, bombings, and murders stamped with messages have been the signs of how Mexican cartels have exported their narco-war to South America, where they have sought to ally with criminal groups to coordinate the shipment of cocaine from Colombia and Peru.
The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) extended their disputes to Ecuador to dominate cocaine transport from key cities. To win the unleashed narco-war, gang members are being sent to training camps in the north of that country to learn how to kill, according to an investigation by Vice News.
“Children are being recruited as killers because, under Ecuador’s legal system, they face relatively little prison time if caught,” reads the article signed by Emily Green.
While Mexican cartels previously played only a support role for Ecuador’s drug trade, these criminal organizations are now financing cocaine production and transshipment. This network involves Colombian guerrilla groups and then Ecuadorian gangs, who move the drugs through Ecuador’s most important ports.
The Mexican cartels know that Ecuador is a transit hub for cocaine due to its geographical location, which is why they have half a dozen major gangs at their service, including Los Choneros, Gangsters and Patones – allies of the Sinaloa Cartel – and Los Tiguerones, Lobos and Chonekillers, who work for the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG).
Who are los tiguerones?
In northern Ecuador, approximately 400 kilometers from Guayaquil, lies the port city of Esmeraldas, where the Tiguerones gang emerged in the late 2010s.
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The gang’s first criminal activities date back to 2019 when they were identified as a splinter group of Los Choneros, the largest criminal organization operating in Ecuador, according to BBC Mundo.
Authorities in the country currently governed by Guillermo Lasso Mendoza identified Alex Salazar Villamar, who has been free since 2021 after serving 60 percent of a sentence for the crime of receiving stolen goods committed in 2017, as the leader of Los Tiguerones.
The link to the CJNG
One of the main activities that Los Tiguerones carry out in Ecuadorian territory is drug trafficking. They have partnered with one of the most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations in Mexico: the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG).
“They get paid for protecting the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation. They usually pay them with cocaine and cash, and they sell micro-doses in Ecuador, where drug consumption has increased,” Ecuadorian journalist Arturo Torres told BBC Mundo.
The alliance between Los Tiguerones and the criminal organization headed by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” consists of receiving cocaine from Colombia and storing it for later delivery to ports or airports for transport to Mexico or the United States.
BBC Mundo’s investigation into the Tiguerones gang also revealed that another criminal activity that generates the most income for members of the criminal organization is the extortion of businessmen and traders.
The resources, training, and weapons the four-letter cartel provided to Los Tiguerones caused the gang to seek to expand its power outside the city of Esmeraldas, sparking violent clashes with rival groups operating in cities such as Guayaquil and Quito.