A drug haul recovered in Guayaquil this year

Authorities in Ecuador have declared over 80 percent of cocaine seized in the country this year was destined for Europe, evidence of a shifting dynamic in the global drug market that transnational criminal groups are increasingly adapting to.

According to Juan Carlos Barragan, head of the country's anti-narcotics police, this shift to Europe is the result of dwindling demand for cocaine in the United States as other drugs become more popular, reported El Telegrafo. Spain is the most common destination point for Europe-bound drugs leaving the continent, although Belgium and Holland are also significant destinations, the newspaper said.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador

As of December 12, over 55 tons of drugs had been seized by Ecuadorean authorities in 2013, of which 98 percent were cocaine. This year's drug seizures equate to a more than 30 percent increase compared to the 42 tons seized in 2012. 

ecuadorgraphic

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, several international bodies -- including Ameripol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (pdf) -- have indicated that Europe is growing in importance as a cocaine market and could soon overtake the United States as the primary destination for the drug.

As the UNDOC 2013 World Drug Report showed (pdf), street prices are considerably higher in Europe than the United States, while the risk of interdiction is substantially lower, making the European market extremely attractive to Latin American organized crime.

At the same time, Ecuador is gaining importance as a departure point for cocaine, much of which originates in Colombia and passes through the port of Guayaquil.

The most influential organized crime groups in Ecuador are Colombian organizations. Many of these have begun to look to the European market as they have been muscled out of the US trade by Mexican cartels, as illustrated by several recent cases, including the August discovery of a network of Colombian assassins operating in Spain.

However, the possibility that Mexican groups are also cashing in on the European market via Ecuador should not be discounted. Sinaloa Cartel operatives have previously been discovered in Ecuador, as well as identified as active in Africa -- a growing transit point for Europe-bound cocaine -- while the recent signing of a new agreement between Mexico and Turkey to work together combating organized crime is another reminder that Mexican groups are tapping in to new markets.