- BBC News World
A prison in Ecuador was filled with blood again this Monday.
Clashes in the Latacunga prison, in the province of Cotopaxi, left at least 15 prisoners dead and dozens injured.
Among those killed in this new episode of violence in Ecuadorian prisons is Luis Antonio Norero Tigua, better known as Leandro Norero or “El Patron”, considered by the Ecuadorian media to be one of the main drug traffickers in the country.
Jorge Flores, deputy director of the National Comprehensive Care Service (SNAI), the body that deals with prisons in Ecuador, reported that Norero was one of the fatalities.
Flores attributed the massacre to a confrontation between rival gangs inside the prison.
With him, one of the most prominent figures on the criminal scene in Ecuador disappears, a country that in the last year and a half has experienced an increase in insecurity and prison violence that the authorities attribute to the struggles of Mexican criminal groups that use to the Andean country as a route for their drug shipments.
Who was Leandro Norero?
According to the specialized journalist Karol E Noroña, Norero was born 36 years ago and had a very hard childhood in an environment of poverty in Guayaquil. Other local journalists instead attribute 34 years.
He jumped to the covers after being arrested last May. Several gold bars and US$7 million in cash were seized in the operation, as well as firearms and ammunition of different calibers.
The Ecuadorian Interior Minister, Patricio Carrillo, said then that his capture had required months of investigations into his money and assets.
Information published in the local media indicates that investigators suspected that Norero had criminal ties to the Mexican cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación.
The police record reviewed by the local media after his death is extensive, although there is no record of any firm judicial conviction.
Before being captured in Ecuador, Norero had been wanted in Peru for alleged drug trafficking.
Two people intercepted by the Peruvian authorities with cocaine inside their bodies declared that Norero had recruited them in Guayaquil.
But Norero’s lawyers managed to get him to evade by communicating that he had died of covid.
According to Noroña, Norero was arrested for the first time in 2005 for illegal possession of weapons. In 2012 he was prosecuted for aggravated robbery and in 2018 for drug trafficking.
Norero has been linked to some of the most notorious criminal groups in Ecuador, such as the so-called “Chone killers”, a gang that, according to reports published in the Ecuadorian media, he founded.
According to Vistazo magazine, Norero was previously part of the Los Ñetas gang, which participated in a “pacification process” during the government of Rafael Correa (2007-2017).
After Norero’s arrest, a photograph circulated in which he was apparently seen together with then President Correa and former Minister Ricardo Patiño.
The dissemination of a photograph of Correista assemblyman Ronny Aleaga in a Miami house together with Xavier Jordán, a fugitive from justice allegedly linked to Norero, fueled suspicions of a possible connection between him and Correismo.
Aleaga said that Jordán is a relative of his girlfriend and that they only met at a social gathering.
Why “El Patron” Norero died
According to the Ecuadorian prison authorities, the outbreak of violence in the Latacunga prison was triggered after the census of inmates held there was completed.
The government assures that special police forces have regained control of the prison, although eyewitnesses quoted by the local media indicate that detonations continue to be heard in the facilities, around which people who want to know about their imprisoned relatives gather.
In 2021, a group of armed hooded men calling themselves The Ghosts released a video in which they directly included him among their threats to the criminal groups operating in Daule, near Guayaquil.
“The ghosts are going to start cleaning Tiguerones, Lobos y Lagartos, with the Zamir and Ben 10, we know that they are an armed arm of you, Leandro, that you want to ride that you do nothing,” said the criminal group.
Local media indicate that the rupture of the alliance with Antonio Benjamín Camacho, alias Ben 10, another Ecuadorian criminal leader, could have been the trigger for the confrontation that ended in a massacre in prison.
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