Colombia, Ecuador Strengthen Border Security
By Marian Romero/Diálogo September 09, 2016Colombia and Ecuador share border problems, including drug trafficking, illegal mining, human trafficking, and smuggling, which have been a concern for authorities in both countries. But, it is smuggling that has become a major issue in the past few years, becoming the focus of criminal enforcement at the border. Brigadier General Sergio Alberto Tafur Mejía, commander of the Pegasus Task Force, from the Colombian Army’s Third Division, explained that the fight against smuggling in the Colombian department of Nariño had not been an emphasis because efforts had been extensively focused on other problems. However, in 2016 it was decided that more drastic action should be taken to end illegal goods smuggling, which has harmed the region’s economy. After a highly detailed analysis of the region, we have realized the importance of protecting legitimate business people. Smuggling is a phenomenon that has persisted through the years; and its practice has become accepted, which causes financial loss and unemployment among the population," Brig. Gen. Tafur said. In order to efficiently combat smuggling, there will be increased infantry patrols, anti-riot squads, radio patrols, and helicopters. These measures are laid out in the Centurion Plan, which is designed to counteract the smuggling of goods across the Colombian border. The plan includes an intelligence network that features the coordinated work of the police, the Technical Investigation Team of the Colombian Attorney General's Office, and Ecuadorean authorities. The border situation The border between Colombia and Ecuador is 586 kilometers long, extending from the Pacific Coast near the Colombian port of Tumaco, crossing the central Andes, and continuing to the countries' shared border with Peru. It divides the equatorial provinces of Esmeraldas, Carchi, and Sucumbíos from the Colombian departments of Nariño and Putumayo. The Colombian Army's actions are focused along 175-kilometer border with Ecuador, in the department of Nariño, where smuggling is worrisome, according to authorities. More than 30 rural smuggling routes from Ecuador into Colombia have been discovered, in addition to the Rumichaca International Bridge, which connects Ipiales and Tulcán. This proximity, separated by only a 10-minute road crossing, has facilitated smuggling. By means of these routes, all types of goods have been transported illegally – from food, clothing, and shoes to cigarettes and fuel. In 2015, Colombian Army seizures amounted to more than $78,500 worth of goods. In 2016, the emphasis on anti-smuggling efforts has resulted in around $915,000 worth of goods being seized thus far. Nariño’s production outlook Nariño’s economy primarily produces goods for internal consumption. It created Special Economic Export Zones in Ipiales and Tumaco in 2001 and 2003, respectively, thereby increasing export of one-off products such as palm oil. Yet, it has not developed high-profit sectors – such as industry or mining – to increase returns. In its 2011 "Millennium Goals Progress Report," the United Nations Development Program defined Nariño's economy as agricultural, with primarily noncompetitive small landholders, without added value creating activity, and without significant mining activity, both of which could provide royalty income. Additionally, since Ecuador's adoption of the dollar in 2000, prices of goods at supermarket chains have gone up precipitously, as has the cost of leasing and purchasing commercial properties, especially in border towns. Under these conditions, smuggling has increased and become accepted – even becoming a problem that is affecting public finances – especially in border towns such as Ipiales, Aldana Cumbal, and Guachucal. “It could be said that smuggling is what the people of the region have resorted to in order to have more accessible prices, as well as to generate employment, even if through illegal activity. But, it is clear from our detailed analysis that most owners of the big smuggling rings are not from the region, but come from other areas of the country to take advantage of the situation," Brig. Gen. Tafur said. “This unfair competition is detrimental to municipal development and to the people who want to make legitimate businesses and compete fairly in the region. And, consequently, the time has come to combat it." The exchange of information, management of intelligence, and the increase in foot patrols are the measures that have been taken at quarterly meetings of authorities, within the framework of the bilateral alliance between Colombia and Ecuador – two countries that are committed to eliminating smuggling in the region.