Fishing industry workers and their families in Ecuador are pleading for assistance for over 100 fishermen incarcerated in foreign prisons on drug trafficking charges, highlighting how those at the bottom of the trafficking chain often pay a disproportionate judicial price in the war on drugs.
The National Federation of Artisanal Fishing Cooperatives (Federación Nacional de Cooperativas Pesqueras Artesanales del Ecuador – FENACOPE) has requested the formation of special multi-sectional commission to take responsibility for the legal cases of the 110 Ecuadorian fishermen it says are imprisoned on drug charges in the United States and Central America, reported La Hora.
FENACOPE called for the government to facilitate the repatriation of the fishermen so they can serve out their sentences in Ecuador, as well as to provide aid for their families in the form of credit for struggling wives, according to La Hora.
“They are not drug traffickers, they are used by drug traffickers; they shouldn’t be paying with sentences of so many years,” the mother of a fisherman serving an 11-year sentence in the United States told La Hora.
Five fishermen have recently been released to finish their sentences in Ecuador as part of the Justice Ministry’s repatriation plan. Although the Interior Ministry only lists 27 more as imprisoned abroad, fishing communities say this is an underestimate, reported La Hora.
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The plight of the Ecuadorean fishermen is typical of those at the bottom of the drug trafficking chain, where drug farmers, mules and transporters take on great risks for a tiny slice of the drug trade profits.
Recruited from poor coastal communities, the fishermen are offered what to them are huge sums of money, but in the context of transnational trafficking represent a pittance of the multibillion-dollar trade. While the money is enough for some, others are intimidated into cooperating.
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These low-level drug operatives are the most vulnerable to security force operations, but they are also disposable for trafficking networks, who can cut them loose and easily replace them without fear of compromising their organizations.
For those imprisoned abroad, especially those in the United States, there is an added bitter irony to their situation. Powerful drug lords who similarly find themselves imprisoned in foreign countries can trade inside information for sentence reductions, while low-level operatives such as the fisherman have no such cards to play.
As a result, some of the region’s biggest drug traffickers have received shorter sentences for shipping tens or even hundreds of tons of cocaine than those transporting one load for one leg of the journey.