Arrests ‘Biggest Blow to Ecuador Organized Crime in 15 Years’

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Authorities in Ecuador have arrested 50 members of a gang dedicated to assassination and drug trafficking, in an example of the sort of domestic organized crime that could grow more common as Ecuador’s role in the international drug trade increases.

Ecuador’s Interior Minister Jose Serrano Salgado announced the operation against the group known as “Los Choneros” on Twitter, declaring it the “toughest and most important blow against the underworld and organized crime in the last 15 years.” Serrano went on to describe the gang, which operated in western province of Manabi, the central province of Los Rios and the north of the country’s biggest city Guayaquil, as “the worst organized crime gang of the past 20 years.”

Among the 50 arrested were 10 of the gang’s leaders, who allegedly planned the February escape of 18 inmates from a maximum security prison, and two police officials, reported Hoy. The gang is believed to be responsible for more than 50 murders, reported El Comercio.

The operation had been planned for eight months, reported La Hora, and involved at least 300 officers and 17 raids, reported El Comercio.

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, Ecuador has played an increasingly important role in transnational organized crime as a key departure point for Colombian drugs heading to overseas markets. However, as a recent report from the Americas Police Community (Ameripol) pointed out, no domestic cartel has risen up and instead, the international drug trade is dominated by foreign organizations, especially Colombian and Mexican.  

However, the growth of the international drug trade within a country often has a knock-on effect on domestic crime, as transnational drug trafficking groups recruit local gangs to do their bidding at street level, or employ them in trafficking operations. This appears to be happening in Ecuador, where, as security analyst Ricardo Camacho told InSight Crime earlier this year, “The Mexicans and the Colombians are the owners of the business, but the Ecuadorians are the labor force,”

Unlike other countries that have experienced such a phenomenon, especially in Central America, Ecuador is not renowned for violent street gangs, and organizations like Los Choneros remain comparatively rare. However, if international drug trafficking continues to grow in the country, such gangs could become more commonplace as homegrown criminals seek to take advantage of the various lucrative opportunities the drug trade offers.

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