Colombia and Ecuador’s top military leaders pledged in late December 2022 to strengthen operations in the fight against narcotrafficking and organized crime along their common border, some 586 kilometers across coastal, Andean, and Amazon regions.
Army General Helder Fernán Giraldo Bonilla, commander of the Colombian Military Forces, and Army Major General Nelson Proaño Rodríguez, chairman of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces’ Joint Command, took part in the meeting held in Ipiales, Colombia, where they agreed to implement the Border Protection Plan.
“Ecuador has become a transit country for cocaine produced in Colombia, and many European coordinators from the Balkan area have even been arrested, who, in cahoots with Colombian criminal organizations, have taken control of the maritime route from Ecuador to Europe,” former Peruvian Interior Minister Miguel Hidalgo Medina told Diálogo on January 20. “Narcotrafficking is advancing significantly on the Colombia-Ecuador border. The last 10 years of cocaine seizures in Ecuador, principally in the Port of Guayaquil, reflect this.”
At the meeting, authorities made 42 commitments that will contribute to strengthening cooperation between both nations for information exchange and coordination of operations in areas where criminal groups are present. The ministries of Defense of both countries must approve the politico-strategic decisions.
“We will not slow down efforts to eliminate narcotrafficking, environmental crimes, smuggling, and all the events that are present in our areas of responsibility,” Gen. Giraldo told the press, as he highlighted the efforts of Colombia and Ecuador to set medium- and short-term military plans to confront crime. Maj. Gen. Proaño for his part pointed out that common strategies will make it possible to confront and neutralize the threats that disrupt society and harm the actions of the State.
On January 18, the Ecuadorian Defense Ministry announced that the air forces of both countries will collaborate on information exchange and carry out coordinated operations to detect illegal narcotrafficking during surveillance and control of their air space.
“On the border between Colombia and Ecuador Balkan cartels and the Russian mafia are present and act in cahoots with Colombian criminal organizations — the Urabeños [also known as the Clan del Golfo], the Caqueteños, dissident groups of the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], as well as other armed groups,” Hidalgo Medina said. “Some Peruvian criminal organizations are also present, which have established alliances with the Balkan cartels.”
According to Hidalgo Medina, operations of military forces on the border are complicated due to logistics reasons, as the region is an inhospitable jungle and the inhabitants of the towns of the area are actively involved in cocaine production.
“The cocaine seized in Ecuador is produced using the Colombian method or the tank method, where the coca leaf is green and freshly harvested,” said Hidalgo Medina, adding that coca crops have been detected in Ecuadorian territory.
Gustavo Duncan, a Colombian professor at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, and an expert on narcotrafficking and armed conflict, told Diálogo that the border is mainly used to transit drugs from Colombia that enter Ecuador mostly in containers that arrive at the ports of Guayaquil, Manta, and Esmeraldas.
“There are drug traffickers and criminal gangs that are fighting for control in certain territories of the border, for the transit of drugs and the commercialization of these illegal substances,” Duncan added.
In November, the Colombian government urged bordering countries Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela to reach agreements to weaken illegal armed groups linked to narcotrafficking in border areas, France-base news site Euronews reported. Colombia’s borders are home to extensive coca crops, drug production laboratories, and have illegal armed groups involved in narcotrafficking, Duncan added.
Colombia’s request for support from its neighboring countries calls for responsible authorities to meet every three months to evaluate progress. “We established contact with the countries on the border because we noticed an activity that we are going to combat with our forces, but also with international collaboration,” Interior Minister Alfonso Prada told the press.