Police in Ecuador have highlighted the role of local drug trafficking clans -- often based on family ties -- within the country's growing drug trade, a sign that Ecuador's increasing importance as a transit point could be catalyzing growth in the domestic market.
Law enforcement officials say they have identified some of the primary families responsible for transport and sales of drugs within Ecuador, especially in the capital of Quito, reported Telegrafo.
Colonel Mauro Vargas, head of the antinarcotics office in Pichincha province, where Quito is located, said recent law enforcement efforts to target these networks have resulted in 20 arrests in the capital, destroying a micro-trafficking ring allegedly responsible for moving around 30 kilos of cocaine a month.
The arrests began with "Operation Renacer" on October 25, which saw 10 accused drug dealers detained in Quito, reported Telegrafo. Authorities in Pichincha have seized a total of 145 kilos of cocaine and 857 kilos of marijuana so far this year.
Officials say the majority of these drugs enter the country from Colombia and Peru and are processed in border provinces before passing on to the capital and other cities. According to Colonel Vargas, law enforcement authorities are following the activity of six other groups involved in domestic drug sales, many based around specific families.
InSight Crime Analysis
There have been numerous indications to suggest a rise in micro-trafficking activity and a growing domestic drug market in Ecuador in recent years. This has coincided with Ecuador's increasing prominence as an important transit point for international cocaine trafficking routes to Europe and other major markets.
Micro-trafficking rising as international drug exports rise is a common phenomenon seen around the region, as international traffickers often pay local associates in product, which then floods the domestic market.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
Ecuador's trafficking routes have historically been under the control of transnational organizations, including Colombian groups the Rastrojos, and, more recently, the Urabeños and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, which is renowned for operating in this way -- recruiting locally and paying in drugs.
While the micro-trafficking networks identified by the police are Ecuadorean, foreign groups are also known to have a stake in the local drug trade, most notably Colombian gang "La Cordillera," which earned an estimated $20,000 a day from the Quito drug trade. However, over the last year, La Cordillera has suffered the loss of several key figures and the extent of their current operations is unclear.