By Dialogo March 04, 2013 GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador – Authorities continue to search for drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s top enforcer in Ecuador and 12 other inmates who escaped from the La Roca Detention Center earlier this month after five were captured in the past few days. César Demar Vernaza Quiñónez, who was serving 25 years for murder, and numerous members of his ruthless gang “The Courageous” were among the group of inmates who fled the high-security prison on Feb. 11. But the inmates may have received help, as 14 prison officers, including Javier Cevallos, the detention center’s director, were arrested the next day by federal law enforcement agents on charges they allegedly aided the escape. The inmates used two handguns to overpower prison guards, forcing them to remove their uniforms before tying them up. The prisoners blasted a hole in the wall, enabling them to reach a boat that was waiting for them on the Daule River behind the prison, authorities said. “The prison break was well planned, and it would have been impossible for it to happen without help from outside and without the possible help of officers (such as) the guards and the director of the detention center,” said Ricardo Camacho Zeas, a security analyst in Ecuador. “Almost everything was malfunctioning at La Roca on that day – the video cameras, the lights. Who was in charge of the detention center?” About 30 minutes later, prison officials learned of the escape. They launched a massive manhunt for the fugitives, starting with police and military troops searching the areas surrounding the prison, most of the villages in the province of Guayas and along the banks of the Daule River. They also searched the scrubland near the prison and checked dozens of residences but did not find the fugitives, as several residents said more than a dozen men had left the area in four vehicles, according to the Ecuadoran daily La Hora. The Ecuadoran government is offering a reward of US$100,000 for information leading to the capture of Vernaza Quiñónez, who was initially taken into custody along with 14 of his gang members by the National Police in April 2012. The government has offered rewards totaling US$1.2 million for information leading the arrests of all the fugitives. Fugitives Orland Chévez Roy Cuenca, Luis Bolívar Vera Mora and Maximiliano Fernando López Muentes were captured by authorities in a house in the province of Santa Elena on Feb. 27. A day earlier, Luis Alberto Ferrín Loor and Éder Pacífico Proaño Pazmiño were arrested at a residence northwest of Guayaquil, according to Interior Minister José Serrano. Ferrín Loor and Proaño Pazmiño were serving 25-year prison sentences for the murder of Jairo Carreño Mendoza in 2011. But before he was locked behind bars, Vernaza Quiñónez and his gang allegedly transported narcotics shipments for Guzmán, who heads Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and is the country’s most wanted fugitive after escaping from a Mexican prison in 2001, according to federal law enforcement authorities in Ecuador. In December 2012, Semana, a Colombian magazine, published an article, “The Sinaloa Cartel Rules in Ecuador.” The article detailed how Guzmán’s forces operate in Ecuador, with the help of Vernaza Quiñónez’s gang. Transnational criminal organizations operate throughout Latin America, smuggling narcotics north toward the Mexican-U.S. border and Canada and also to Europe and Australia, said security analyst Edgardo Buscaglia, the president of the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IAC) in Mexico City. “The Sinaloa Cartel is present in many countries and Ecuador is certainly one of them,” Camacho Zeas said. The Sinaloa Cartel has increased its operations in Ecuador in recent years, as the transnational criminal organization smuggles drugs out of Ecuador primarily by air and sea, he added. In recent months, Ecuadoran authorities have made numerous seizures and arrests connected to the Sinaloa cartel’s operations in the Andean nation: In June 2012, the Ecuadoran Navy seized a submarine under construction in a small island close to Isla Puna, in the gulf of Guayaquil. The submarine was similar to the one spotted and sunk by a Navy helicopter in January 2012. The seized submarine probably belonged to El Chapo, security analysts said. In May 2012, a small plane crashed in the province of Manabí, a region known as Cerro de la Muerte. Ecuadoran police found US$1.4 in cash on the airplane, which had Mexican tags. The pilot and co-pilot, who both died, were from Sinaloa, Mexico, the cartel’s stronghold. The two men were identified as Santiago Alfonso López Monzón, 32, and Cruz Alfredo Solis López, 46. In April 2012, Ecuadoran police forces took Vernaza Quiñónez and 14 members of his gang into custody. In August of that year, the First Criminal Court of Esmeraldas sentenced him to 25 years in prison for two murders. He’s also a key person of interest in the killing of Wellington Alcívar Quiñónez, an attorney in Esmeraldas who was fatally shot in February 2012 after publicly denouncing the Sinaloa Cartel’s activities in Ecuador.