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Monday, July 22, 2024

Treasury Sanctions Ecuador’s Los Lobos Drug Trafficking Organization and Its Leader

Treasury Sanctions Ecuador’s  Los Lobos Drug Trafficking Organization and Its Leader

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the Ecuador-based Los Lobos Drug Trafficking Organization (Los Lobos) and its leader Wilmer Geovanny Chavarria Barre (also known as “Pipo”). Numbering thousands of members, Los Lobos has emerged as Ecuador’s largest drug trafficking organization and contributes significantly to the violence gripping the country. This action builds on Treasury’s February 7 designation of Los Choneros—a prominent Ecuadorian drug gang—and comes as Ecuadorian criminal organizations backed by Mexico’s Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Sinaloa Cartel continue to drive violence and instability in Ecuador.

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


On May 22, 2024, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared a new state of emergency in seven of the country’s 24 provinces in response to ongoing gang violence. The January 7 disappearance of Los Choneros leader José Adolfo Macías Villamar from his cell in a Guayaquil prison triggered widespread riots, bombings, kidnappings, the assassination of a prominent prosecutor, and an armed attack on a TV network during a live broadcast. On January 9, President Noboa declared his country to be in a state of “internal armed conflict” and designated 22 of the country’s gangs—including Los Lobos and Los Choneros—as terrorist groups. President Noboa’s May 2024 declaration follows an April referendum in which Ecuadorian voters overwhelmingly approved proposals that would allow his government broad leverage to fight the drug gangs, including deploying soldiers alongside police and permitting law enforcement to use weapons seized from gangs.


Los Lobos began as a group of hitmen working under their now-rival gang Los Choneros. The 2020 assassination of a Los Choneros leader left a power vacuum that Los Lobos and its allies filled by coordinating attacks against Los Choneros’ fragmented leadership, culminating in prison riots that left scores of inmates dead. Los Lobos has been involved in drug trafficking, murder-for-hire, and illegal gold mining and additionally provides security services for Mexico’s CJNG in support of CJNG’s efforts to dominate cocaine trafficking routes in Ecuador’s port city of Guayaquil. Los Lobos is also accused of orchestrating the assassination of 2023 Ecuadorian candidate Fernando Villavicencio. In September 2023, the Department of State issued an award of up to $5 million for information on unknown subjects responsible for Villavicencio’s murder.


In Ecuador, a country once regarded as a safe haven from the drug-related violence plaguing its Latin American neighbors, murals like this are a constant reminder of the drug gangs whose violence has thrown the country into crisis since January.

Wilmer Geovanny Chavarria Barre (Chavarria Barre) is a top leader of Los Lobos. During his imprisonment between 2011 and 2018, Chavarria Barre gained notoriety while managing a group of hitmen who operated as a sub-component of Los Choneros and assumed the name Los Lobos or “the wolves” before their rise as a powerful drug gang in their own right. In 2022, Chavarria Barre ordered the murder of his rivals Leandro Norero and Samir Maestre to seize control of their valuable drug trafficking routes. Chavarria Barre remains at large, with public reports suggesting he may have fled Ecuador under an assumed identity.

OFAC designated Los Lobos pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14059 for having engaged in, or attempted to engage in, activities or transactions that materially contributed to, or pose a significant risk of materially contributing to, the international proliferation of illicit drugs or their means of production. OFAC designated Chavarria Barre pursuant to E.O. 14059 for being or having been a leader or official of Los Lobos.


As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. U.S. persons may face civil or criminal penalties for violations of E.O. 14059.

Today’s action is part of a whole-of-government effort to counter the global threat posed by the trafficking of illicit drugs into the United States that is causing the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans annually, as well as countless more non-fatal overdoses. OFAC, in coordination with its U.S. government partners and foreign counterparts, and in support of President Biden’s Unity Agenda, will continue to hold accountable those individuals and businesses involved in the manufacturing and sale of illicit drugs. 

The power and integrity of OFAC sanctions derive not only from OFAC’s ability to designate and add persons to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List), but also from its willingness to remove persons from the SDN List consistent with the law. The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior. For information concerning the process for seeking removal from an OFAC list, including the SDN List, please refer to OFAC’s Frequently Asked Question 897. For detailed information on the process to submit a request for removal from an OFAC sanctions list, please click here.

For more information on the individual and entity designated today, click here.



Official news published at https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy2394

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