Ecuador seizures are up, as is US criticism

Ecuadorian authorities have lashed out against the recently published US State Department's drug report, suggesting its findings were politically motivated and baseless. 

The State Department's 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report -- which is part of annual compendium of drug trafficking trends around the world -- noted the continuing presence of transnational organized criminal groups in Ecuador, labelling it a "major transit country."

It said there were expanding drug trafficking routes across Ecuador, with Mexican cartels increasingly using private aircraft to "transport money into Ecuador and cocaine to Mexico and Central America".

The State Department further suggested that a number of transnational criminal networks, including the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Gulf Cartels, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), operate in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian chancellery have signaled it will issue a formal response to the report.

And Ecuador's regional chief of police, Edmundo Mancayo, told El Comercio that, although this may have been accurate in preceding years, recent police investigations had found "no links to such cartels." 

The Ecuadorian Minister of Internal Affairs, Jose Serrano, "categorically rejected" the report's suggestion that "weak public institutions, permeable borders and corruption" make Ecuador vulnerable to transnational organized crime.

Ecuadorian authorities seized over 80 tons of drugs in a record-breaking 2015, and, according to Serrano, over 400 tons in the last eight years. Serrano cited these statistics as evidence of the "unbreakable will" of the government and police in eradicating organized crime in Ecuador.

InSight Crime Analysis

The response of Ecuadorian officials symbolizes a further cooling in increasingly strained diplomatic relations between the US and Ecuador. For his part, Serrano suggested the "whimsical" report was published in retaliation to Ecuador's decreasing reliance on US support. The official also implied that decreasing police corruption in Ecuador, and the rejection of "little presents" previously accepted from the US, had triggered the backlash.

Under the watch of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, long a critic of US influence, Ecuador has increasingly resisted US involvement in anti-trafficking operations. In 2009, Ecuador's authorities demanded US withdrawal from its military base in Manta, a coastal town in the west of Ecuador, and forced the closure of the US Embassy's Security Cooperation Office in 2014.

But the US also has a point. Slack monitoring of shipments in Ecuador's ports has contributed in making its Pacific Coast, and particularly Puerto de Guayaquil, an important launching point for drugs into Europe and South America as well as a home for many criminal groups.

In the end, each government will reach for statistics its bolster its point of view. While the report notes that only 20 percent of shipments at Puerto Guayaquil are searched, for example, it is a marked increase from the 2013 figures published by Ecuador's anti-drug office which stated only 4.5 percent were physically searched.