Ecuador’s government has reported the existence of 26 unsanctioned border crossings into Colombia, which pose a security problem to both countries, as Ecuador is becoming an increasingly important drug transshipment point for Colombian gangs.
Many of the border crossings that the Defense Ministry identified to Ecuadorean newspaper La Hora are concentrated in the troubled province of Carchi, a known refuge for Colombian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and in Sucumbios. (See InSight Crime’s map of Ecuador’s illegal border crossings, below).
When Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos had their first formal meeting in December, the problem of illegal border crossings was high on the agenda. These have been widely tolerated by both governments for years; farmers and business owners in the region contend that because of the lack of formal border crossings, they must use these informal points to move their goods across the border.
However, the crossings present a threat to regional security, as they may also be used to smuggle weapons, drugs, and precursor chemicals between the two countries. According to La Hora, the last time Colombia and Ecuador attempted to shut down several of these illegal border crossings was in 2004.
InSight Crime Analysis
Since Santos improved relations with Ecuador, much of the renewed relationship between the two countries has focused on combating the criminal groups that straddle the border. In the past several years Ecuador has become a major smuggling route for various contraband, and increasing cooperation between the two Andean countries is aimed at curbing that growth.
A 2011 report by International Crisis Group describes this increased collaboration. In June 2011, the two countries initiated an intelligence sharing agreement. Ecuador also passed a tougher refugee law to make it more difficult for Colombians to take advantage of asylum in Ecuador, as some were claiming refugee status in order to orchestrate illegal cross-border activities. Meanwhile, Bogota began funneling more mining, oil, and gas royalties to border provinces, so that these local governments could rely on a bigger budget for security issues.
Other signs of cooperation have revolved around a militarized response. In January, Correa sent 10,000 more troops to the northern border to increase security. In April, he made a rare acknowledgment that the FARC are indeed present in Ecuador, and reaffirmed his government’s commitment towards pursuing and capturing them.
The cooperation has had limited results. In November 2011, Ecuador announced a 30 percent increase in cocaine seizures compared to 2010. However, this was still markedly lower than the 2009 seizure rate. It is also unclear whether this increase is because the Ecuadorean security forces are more effective at tracking and seizing drug shipments, or because there is simply more cocaine moving through the country.
View Ecuador-Colombia Border Crossings in a larger map