Ecuadorian authorities captured an alleged drug kingpin who bridged the gap between Ecuador’s local gangs and the international drug trafficking trade, helping establish the country as a cocaine hub and ushering in a period of devastating gang violence.

Wilder Emilio Sánchez Farfán, alias “Gato Farfán” or “Gato,” was arrested on February 8 in Pasto, Colombia in a joint operation between Ecuadorian and Colombian forces. Ecuadorian Interior Minister Juan Zapata described him as the most wanted criminal in Ecuador and one of the world’s most sought-after fugitives.

Gato Farfán is the alleged leader of the Ecuador New Generation Cartel (Cartel Nueva Generación Ecuador), a coalition uniting several prominent Ecuadorian gangs including the Lobos, the Tiguerones, the Chone Killers, and the Lagartos, among others. Last year, these gangs came together to oppose the Choneros, regarded as the leading criminal organization in Ecuador.

SEE ALSO: Colombian and Mexican Cartels Pick Sides in Ecuador’s Drug War

Authorities connected Gato Farfán to prison massacres and assassinations, including the 2020 murder of Jorge Luis Zambrano González, alias “Rasquiña,” the former leader of the Choneros, who was shot and killed in 2020.

US authorities have also targeted Gato Farfán. Federal prosecutors there charged him in 2019 with drug trafficking, and in February last year, the US Treasury Department brought sanctions against him, alleging that he was a “major” cocaine supplier who trafficked multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Ecuador and on through Central America, Mexico, and ultimately to the United States.

InSight Crime Analysis

Coordinating and transporting cocaine from Colombia through Ecuador, Gato Farfán allegedly helped develop Ecuador as a drug trafficking hub for at least a decade.

He is the most prominent in a series of Ecuadorian drug dealers who forged sophisticated, large-scale drug smuggling networks from Ecuador to international markets, including Washington Prado Alava, alias “Gerald,” who transported cocaine to Central America and Mexico, and former Ecuadorian army captain Telmo Castro, who worked with Colombian criminal groups to traffic cocaine, and for whom Gato Farfán was a trusted confidant. 

Yet, what set Farfán apart from his predecessors was his ability to cobble together a coalition of gangs whose fractious relationships had previously hindered the building of strong international connections, Daniel Pontón, a professor at Ecuador’s National Institute of Higher Studies (Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales – IAEN Ecuador), told InSight Crime. 

SEE ALSO: Treasure, Corruption and Legal Machinations – Gerald’s Legacy in Ecuador

“Transnational organized crime groups do not always like to work with gangs because they can be a bit anarchic, not very respectful of agreements, and they are extremely violent, which generates a high visibility for their actions,” Pontón said.

Under Farfán’s alleged leadership, the Ecuador New Generation Cartel coordinated member gangs to transport Colombian cocaine through Ecuador to Mexican, Albanian, and Spanish criminal groups. 

Transnational criminal ties propelled Ecuador’s rise in importance as a trafficking hotspot, contributing to an explosion of violence as gangs fight over increasing volumes of cocaine arriving at the country’s ports and border points. Nationally, homicide rates have been increasing rapidly in recent years, making Ecuador one of the most violent countries in the region. 

Farfán’s arrest likely won’t have much impact on cocaine trafficking through Ecuador. The networks he allegedly helped to establish have become resilient enough to continue operating even in the absence of a cunning and innovative leader.

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