Mario Pazmiño, former head of Ecuadorean military intelligence

A former head of Ecuadorean military intelligence claimed there had been a 90 percent increase in the number of maritime drug trafficking routes out of Ecuador in the last seven years.

According to Mario Pazmiño, in 2005 authorities counted 10-15 routes used to ship drugs originating in Colombia out of Ecuador, reported Honduran newspaper La Hora. By 2007, that had risen to 50-60, then in 2010 and 2011 there was a rapid expansion to 300-400 routes, used to move drugs to Central America and Europe.

Pazmiño said the blame for the explosion seen in 2010 at least partly lay with the closure of the Manta US military base in 2009, which had been strategically located in the regional trafficking hub of Manabi.

The former intelligence chief added that in 2012, traffickers also increased their use of light aircraft to move drugs out of the country, pointing to the discovery of two planes allegedly linked to Mexican cartels earlier this year.

Last month, Pazmiño told the media that authorities were only seizing an estimated 10 percent of drugs that move through Ecuador.

InSight Crime Analysis

Pazmiño is a controversial figure in Ecuador. He was removed from his post in 2008 following allegations he had revealed the location of guerrilla camps in Ecuador to Colombian intelligence, and since then has been in constant conflict with the Ecuadorean government, which even accused him of being a CIA operative.

Pazmiño did not reveal the source of his statistics, and there is a possibility that he is chiefly motivated by political considerations. However, it is the case that Ecuador is becoming an increasingly important transit route for major drug trafficking organizations.

This point was reinforced earlier this year with reports that Mexican cartels have begun to challenge the Colombian traffickers who have traditionally controlled Ecuadorean operations.

Even if the increase in transit routes is less than the 90 percent claimed by Pazmiño, the scale of the challenge facing Ecuadorean security forces is already daunting and, as Pazmiño’s analysis suggests, is getting larger by the year.