An assessment by the security forces reportedly says that Ecuador is home to an increasing number of organized criminal groups, and that the authorities have underestimated the problem.

El Comercio reports that a review by the military says that drug trafficking and organized crime may soon overwhelm the country, if "adequate measures" are not taken in time.

According to the newspaper, the 225-page report warns that if drug-related violence rises, the army will be charged with tackling the problem.

Foreign drug trafficking organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel have been present in Ecuador "for years," according to a police intelligence report quoted by El Comercio.

According to the newspaper, the police report suggests that the security forces have underestimated the extent of the problem because drug-related killings are relatively low compared to Mexico. "What is worrying is that the authorities do not fully understand what is happening with the problem of organized crime. The 'Mexico effect' is not yet visible in Ecuador," the report says.

The police assessment reportedly says that the main entry points for drug shipments include the cities of Macara, Tulcan, San Lorenzo, and Nueva Loja (see map, below). The primary exit points for drug shipments headed overseas are the port cities of Manta, Esmeraldas, Muisne, Puna, Rocafuerte, and Puerto Bolivar.

Drug traffickers use go-fast boats and submarines to transport their wares from the coast, then meet up with boats on the high seas who collect the cocaine loads and take them to Honduras, the document reportedly says. Other times, go-fast boats stop at the Galapagos islands to refuel and continue on to Central America.

The report adds that two major drug seizures in 2007 and 2008, part of an operation dubbed Green Hurricane, are evidence of Ecuador's increased importance as a drug transit country for transnational criminal groups. During the operation, narcotics police seized 3.78 tons of cocaine in southern Ecuador, and another 4.70 tons near the border with Colombia.

These reported negative assessments from the security forces are an indication that they believe they lack the resources to properly confront organized crime. The government recently ordered some 7,000 soldiers and 3,000 police to the northern frontier with Colombia, after President Rafael Correa said that border was "the gravest security problem facing the country."

But the northern border region is just one part of the problem. Along the country's coasts, trafficking gangs are increasingly reliant on semi-submersibles to transport cocaine. Police found a 12-acre poppy field in central Ecuador in December, a highly unusual discovery in a country that is generally free of illicit drug crops. In Quito, Colombian gangs have been accused of controlling much of the local drug trade. One US drug official described Ecuador as the "United Nations" of organized crime, due to the number of transnational criminal groups (including Russian and Chinese) that have set up shop here.

Mexican groups in particular have a growing foothold in Ecuador. In February, police arrested a man described as the main link between the Sinaloa Cartel and Colombian drug trafficker Daniel Barrera, alias "El Loco." Authorities arrested nine operatives who allegedly worked for the Mexican group in Ecuador last year; the investigation also led to the arrest of a top Sinaloa Cartel lieutenant, Victor Felix, in Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel reportedly has two armed cells working along Ecuador's southern border. According to the US State Department, the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, and Colombian rebel group the FARC all move cocaine through Ecuador.

If the security forces have in fact warned that organized crime could spill out of control unless measures are taken, this suggests that the situation is becoming critical. If authorities do not meet the challenge, it may yet turn into a national crisis.


View Macara in a larger map

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...