Cocaine removed from the stomach of a drug 'mule'

Recent reforms to Ecuador's Criminal Code could allow for arrested drug "mules" to be considered victims rather than criminals, a pioneering step towards recognition that people are often forced into smuggling drugs, but one that could create a tricky legal gray area.

Ecuador's new Criminal Code (pdf) -- which was approved in January 2014 and is expected to come into force sometime in 2015 -- will penalize drug trafficking according to the quantities carried, reported El Comercio. The amount of drugs that constitute the "minor," "medium," "large" and "extra-large" amounts stipulated by the new law still needs to be defined by the Narcotics Control Council (Consep).

Ecuador's repealed Law 108 on Narcotic and Psychoactive Substances made no distinction between large-scale traffickers and small-scale transporters, while 40 percent of the law's articles were focused on criminal punishment rather than prevention and rehabilitation.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador

According to El Comercio, the aim of the new Code is also to open up the possibility of the subject being included in the victims and witness protection program, on the condition that information is provided leading to the arrest of those responsible.

"For the first time, this law defines the 'mule' as being a potential victim," said National Public Defender Ernesto Pazmiño.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although smuggling drugs internationally can yield extremely high profits, many people throughout Latin America are forced into the task by criminal groups who are threatening them or their loved ones, or to resolve a debt.

The issue has at times been recognized by other countries in the region, as was the case with a Mexican architect coerced into smuggling cocaine into the United States, who was given a lenient sentence of six months in prison by a US court.

Ecuador's new legislation appears to take an extra step in this direction, overthrowing a previous Code that had been heavily criticized by current President Rafael Correa and other politicians for its disproportionate sentences.

However, the reforms may create new legal difficulties in distinguishing between willing and unwilling mules. As it is dependent on cooperation as a witness, people who carry drugs purely for personal gain may claim victim status for their own benefit, while those forced into it may stay silent for fear of repercussions for them or their families.

Investigations

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

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.