Drugs seized off Ecuador's Galapagos Islands

In just the first two months of the year, Ecuador drug seizures have increased fivefold compared to the same time period in 2014, indication that the country's role in transnational drug trafficking continues to intensify.

Authorities seized 13.3 tons of illicit drugs between January 1 and February 22, a fivefold increase from the 2.5 tons of drugs confiscated during this same period in 2014, reported Ecuadorian news agency Andes. Close to 10 tons of drugs were destined for the international market while 3.5 tons were intended for domestic consumption, according to Ecuador's Interior Minister Jose Serrano (see graph below). 

The report does not break down the seizures by drug type. However, Ricardo Camacho, an Ecuadorian security analyst, told InSight Crime that 80 percent of all seizures by Ecuadorian authorities are of cocaine. 

The 2015 seizure figures include the two tons of Mexican-bound cocaine authorities recently found on a fishing boat near the Galapagos Islands, reported EFE

InSight Crime Analysis

The spike in drug seizures suggests Ecuador's Pacific coast could be an increasingly strategic launching point for Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations smuggling cocaine north to Mexico and the United States. According to Camacho, "anti-drug police have detected a new drug route around the Galapagos, which has generated the increase in seizures during January and February." Colombian guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is believed to control sea routes off the coastal province of Esmeraldas; however, several Mexican drugs cartels have also reportedly established a presence there. 

Notably, the quantity of narcotics seized this year destined for Ecuador's domestic market grew significantly as well. This points to the continued expansion of Ecuador's consumer market, which has led to a rise in micro-trafficking operations in capital city Quito. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador

Interestingly, Ecuador's homicide rate has dropped dramatically in recent years, bucking the region-wide trend of high levels of violence in prominent drug transit and consumer countries. Interior Minister Serrano recently said the decrease in violence was due to security reforms that professionalized the country's police forces.

Another possible explanation for Ecuador's low violence levels would be that seizure statistics are not always indicative of a country's criminal dynamics. Despite being home to some of Latin America's strongest organized crime groups, Mexico consistently seizes lower quantities of cocaine than smaller nations like Costa Rica and Panama. Camacho noted that in Ecuador's case, the first two months of 2015 may serve as an outlier and it is worth waiting "until the end of the year to see if this trend [in increased seizures] continues."