The transnational criminal organization led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has suffered a series of losses in Ecuador in recent months.
In June, Ecuadorean authorities seized a submarine that was under construction, a light airplane, a speedboat and two tons of cocaine. The sea vessels, the airplane and the drugs probably belonged to El Chapo, said local security analyst Ricardo Camacho Zeas, who noted that El Chapo has been operating in Ecuador for years.
“There is no doubt” the vessels were used in drug trafficking, he said, and that they “would be directly related to a Mexican drug cartel which would operate with Ecuadorean and Mexican nationals,” he noted — since it’s El Chapo’s pattern to form alliances with organized crime in whatever country outside Mexico he’s operating in.
For example, in April, Ecuador’s National Police arrested El Chapo’s primary enforcer in the country, César Demar Vernaza Quiñonez, known as “The Entrepreneur.” He led a gang of criminal operatives known as “The Courageous.” The gang transported and guarded drug shipments for El Chapo that went through Ecuador, authorities said.
El Chapo’s long list of activities
The recent seizures of vessels, aircraft and cocaine all appear to be connected to El Chapo:
• On June 24, Ecuador’s Coast Guard discovered a submarine hidden beneath mud and shrubs on an islet between the Verdes and Escalante islands, in the Gulf of Guayaquil. The sub was 15 meters long and four meters wide, with the capacity to haul up to 15 tons of drugs. The sub was under construction and was 70 percent complete, authorities said.
• On June 23, the Ecuadorian Navy intercepted a speedboat 12 miles from the coast of Canoa, in Manabí province. The boat was powered by three outboard engines of 350-horsepower each and carried 2,000 gallons of fuel. The vessel, which left Chiapas on June 7, was equipped with modern communications equipment, a high-frequency transmitter and food for several days. Three Mexican nationals were detained.
• On June 22, the Ecuadorian Navy found a ton of cocaine the rocks at San Clemente Beach, a few miles from where the speedboat was captured. The cocaine was probably supposed to be picked up by the men on the captured speedboat, authorities said.
• On June 5, police found a light aircraft with a Mexican license plate abandoned inside a hangar in San Pablo, in the coastal province of Santa Elena. The aircraft was probably used for drug trafficking, authorities said.
There have been other indications El Chapo is operating extensively in Ecuador. On May 13, a light plane crashed in Manabí. Authorities found $1.4 million in cash on the plane, which was from Mexico. The pilot and co-pilot, who both died in the crash, were from El Chapo’s stronghold of Sinaloa.
Drug vessels popping up everywhere
In recent years, Ecuadorian authorities have discovered several seafaring vessels that were used for drug trafficking. In June 2010, authorities captured a speedboat in El Guabo, in the province of El Oro. The boat was going to be used to transport four tons of cocaine to Mexico. The following month, soldiers found a submarine in San Lorenzo, in Esmeraldas province, near the Colombian border. The fiberglass vessel was empty but operational.
And in January 2012, a submarine was spotted in the Gulf of Guayaquil. It was sunk by its crew before Coast Guard boats could arrive to seize it; the Coast Guard helped rescue its crewmen.
In 2011, Ecuador’s military warned that drug trafficking posed a threat to national security, pointing out that Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and other transnational criminal groups operate in Ecuador because of its proximity to Colombia and other coca-producing countries. Ecuador is also considered a good location from which to ship large loads of drugs north toward Mexico and the United States, or northeast toward Europe.
Both Mexico and the United States are cooperating in the battle against organized crime groups. The two countries share information about the operations of El Chapo and other violent cartels, such as Los Zetas, which is led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “The Executioner,” and the Gulf cartel, led by Jorge Eduardo Castillo Sanchez, known as “El Coss.”
That kind of alliance is also crucial in the fight against organized crime groups in Ecuador and throughout Latin America, a security analyst said.
“Regional cooperation can always be broadened so organized crime can be faced in a more efficient manner,” said Sonja Wolf of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “Since it is a transnational threat, it is obvious that (nations) have to cooperate.”