Belgian Cocaine Seizure Highlights Ecuador’s Role in Transatlantic Market

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The seizure of some eight tons of cocaine that had been shipped from Ecuador in a load of bananas and were bound for the Netherlands, points to the importance of the South American state as a transit point for narcotics.

Authorities in the Belgian port city of Antwerp seized the narcotics on October 8. The shipment was destined for Rotterdam and had a value of €500 million (around $647 million), reported the AFP.

The shipment, which was discovered hidden in containers of bananas, is the largest ever seized in Belgium. After the drugs were seized, Belgian authorities allowed the bananas to continue to their intended destination which led Dutch officials to the alleged traffickers, one Belgian and four Dutch nationals, in Rotterdam. The bananas were then donated to the Rotterdam zoo.

According to Ecuador’s interior minister, Jose Serrano, the operation was the result of work between Ecuadorean, Belgian and Dutch authorities.

InSight Crime Analysis

Ecuador is a key South American transit point for cocaine, with the US State Department estimating last year — perhaps somewhat highly — that some 220 tons of cocaine pass through the country annually.

Its role as a jump off point for Europe-bound narcotics, however, is slightly less important. According to a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the transatlantic cocaine market, of the cocaine seized in Spain — the main entry point for narcotics into Europe — from 2008-2010, 8 percent came from Ecuador, placing it in third behind Colombia (27 percent) and Venezuela (37 percent). The western province of Manabi is one of the primary exit points for maritime trafficking.

There have been no reports so far as to who could be behind the shipment from Ecuador. A number of Colombian and Mexican cartels are known to have a presence in the country, from the Rastrojos drug gang to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. As a report by El Comercio noted last month, the trade from Ecuador has traditionally been controlled by Colombian gangs who sell to their Mexican counterparts. There are indications, however, that this may be changing, with Mexican gangs seeking to wrest full control of the trade away from the Colombians.

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