Ecuador Minister Acknowledges Presence of Foreign Drug Cartels

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A top official from Ecuador has publically acknowledged the presence of transnational criminal groups from Colombia and Mexico, but insisted the country is only used to transit drugs, despite evidence of grrowing drug production.

Speaking during an interview on ECTV (see video below), Vice-minister for Internal Security Javier Cordova named Colombia’s Rastrojos and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel specifically and said, “it’s evident these criminal groups have branches in our country.” However, he went on to say, “our country has never been a drug producer,” adding “drugs are not processed and coca leaves are not produced in our country.”

SEE ALSO: Ecuador News

Cordova went on to laud the “very good” permanent cooperation with neighbors Colombia and Peru, as well as Mexico. Highlighting the importance of such alliances, Cordova says, “If we claimed or believed that we could carry out an effective fight against drug trafficking alone, we would be wrong.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The presence of Colombian and Mexican organized crime in Ecuador has long been reported, however such an admission from a high level government official like Cordova is unusual.

In recent years, the Rastrojos have been considered the dominant underworld force in the country, however their preeminence seems to have slipped, with recent major drug hauls linked to Colombian rivals the Urabeños. Meanwhile, the Sinaloa Cartel’s growing involvement has been underscored by the recent captures of a key operative and a former army captain accused of working with the Mexicans. 

While the Rastrojos are now generally perceived to be in terminal decline as an organization with national reach, the arrest in August in Ecuador of one of the group’s key regional leaders demonstrated their continued activity in the country. According to a security services source consulted by InSight Crime in Colombia’s third-largest city Cali, a traditional stronghold for the group, “there is no visible head of the Rastrojos, but drugs are still being moved by Rastrojos elements.”

Despite Cordova’s assurances that Ecuador has so far not become a site of drug production or processing, opium poppy crops have previously been discovered in the country, while there have been numerous discoveries of small scale coca cultivation near the Colombian border likely linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which maintain a strong presence on both sides of the border.

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