Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities captured one of Ecuador’s most wanted criminals and an alleged ally of the Sinaloa Cartel in Cali, Colombia, where he and his gang were reportedly trying to join up with criminal groups in the area and establish Colombia-Ecuador trafficking routes.
Cesar Vernaza Quiñonez, alias “El Empresario,” who headed Ecuadorean criminal group “Los Templados,” and one of his lieutenants, Fernando Sotelo Sampedro, alias “La Bestia,” were arrested following a joint operation between Colombian and Ecuadorean police with assistance from Interpol, reported Semana.
El Espectador characterized El Empresario as one of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s principal associates in Ecuador, and reported that the Sinaloa Cartel may have assisted in Vernaza’s escape from a maximum security prison in Guayaquil in February.
Colombia’s National Police said that Vernaza, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in August 2012 for murder, issued threats on social networking sites against officials in Ecuador’s Ministry of the Interior and their families.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, Ecuador’s criminal landscape has mostly been dominated by foreign groups. These include Colombian neo-paramilitary organizations (called “BACRIM” by the Colombian government) and guerrillas, who used Ecuador to transport drug shipments, launder money, and hide out from authorities. Mexican criminal organizations have also increased their presence in Ecuador, reportedly competing with Colombian groups for control of drug trafficking routes.
El Empresario’s alleged attempt to establish more direct ties with BACRIM in Cali could be a sign that Ecuadorean criminal actors may be trying to gain a stronger foothold in the international cocaine supply chain. Alternatively, if it is true that El Empresario works with the Sinaloa Cartel, it could suggest the cartel is attempting to deepen its influence at the supply end of cocaine trafficking.