Drug Traffickers Diversify Maritime Routes Out of Ecuador

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Drug traffickers have begun shipping cocaine from Ecuador to Brazil, Chile, and Peru, according to the Ecuadorean armed forces, as as they look to avoid the attention of law enforcement and capitalize on the growing domestic markets.

Sources in the armed forces told newspaper La Hora that while traffickers traditionally moved product directly from Ecuador to the US or Europe, smugglers have moved to diversify their routes through Peru, Chile, and Brazil in response to increased anti-narcotics efforts by state security forces. Traffickers have also shifted their supply routes to meet rising demand for drugs in Brazil.

Traffickers reportedly operate principally out of clandestine ports in Manabi, Esmeraldas, Guayaquil, and the Galapagos islands.

One expert consulted by La Hora suggested that traffickers may be only moving small quantities of drugs rather than bulk shipments along these new routes.

InSight Crime Analysis

The diversification of drug trafficking routes through Ecuador is likely linked to the country’s increasingly important role as a trafficking transit hub. In November 2012, Ecuador’s National Anti-Narcotics Department reported that drugs seized at the country’s largest port in Guayaquil jumped from one ton in 2010 to eight tons in 2012. In December, Ecuador’s former head of military intelligence claimed that maritime drug trafficking has increased by 90 percent over the past seven years, although he failed to cite the source of these statistics.

The new routes through Ecuador partly reflect new regional trends in drug consumption. Of the three destination countries identified, Brazil is the is currently the world’s largest crack cocaine consumer and second largest cocaine consumer, while Chile has the second highest cocaine consumption rate per capita in the region. Both are also renowned shipment points for drugs headed to Europe, often via Africa. 

Colombian and Mexican trafficking organizations are believed to control the international export of cocaine shipments from Ecuador, while Ecuadoreans play a larger role in the domestic drug market. 

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