Drugs are an Important Warning Sign in Ecuador

Drugs are an Important Warning Sign in Ecuador

By Dialogo
September 23, 2015

General Garzón, as an Ecuadoran woman I am very sad about what is happening here in Ecuador. It's getting out of hand what is happening with you, who should act to protect us you are seeing all these young people lost to drugs. We have never before seen on fields campuses all these young people lost to drugs that is terrible you should act urgently stop drug trafficking. Why did the President kick the U.S. out of Ecuador?? I ask the U.S. to return to Ecuador you should be professional and not follow the president's banditry all of our future is in your hands we want a democratic country. Never a tyrant. Freedom for our people. With respect to the volcano the president needs to get to work that's what we elected him for. The government in time should start looking for a place to relocate the people who live close to the volcano start relocating them to other areas . They're not going to wait to the last minute or for there to be victims. I hope you read my message and examine your conscience! Returning to DEMOCRACY is in your hands. I am a Venezuelan woman, and I have an Ecuadorian granddaughter. I am worried for her life. For all the good principles and values that my daughter can and does give my beloved granddaughter, it's not worth much without protection against drugs, because even if she doesn't use or sell this cursed thing, these drugs, it won't stop her from being a victim of robbery or kidnapping by a drug addict. I love Ecuador because it has wonderful citizens and educated people, DON'T let them ruin this good country. Keep on fighting to overcome evil with good. You've done well so far; now let's do it better. God and your country will reward you. My respect to you Ecuadorians. I love you guys because you're my brothers. FROM VENEZUELA, MUCH LOVE AND WARM REGARDS.


The Peacekeeping Missions School of Ecuador (UEMPE) is a school where officers from the three branches of the Ecuadoran Armed Forces are trained to take part in international missions based on the United Nations (UN) requirements for peacekeeping missions.

Diálogo
spoke with General Luis Aníbal Garzón, head of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces of Ecuador, during the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC 2015), held in Asunción, Paraguay, on August 18-21, to discuss the participation of the Armed Forces of Ecuador in peacekeeping missions, the aid that they provide to their citizens during crises and how the military are involved in the fight against drugs.

DIÁLOGO:
Very little is said about drugs in Ecuador. Do you believe that drugs are a silent threat in your country?

General Luis Aníbal Garzón:
No, they are more like an important warning sign that we have been dealing with for some time. Ecuador neither produces nor harvests coca. It is not a producing country. I can say that the Armed Forces, from a territorial standpoint, are stationed throughout the country and control every part of it. The largest coca plantation that we have found is no larger than three hectares. In other words, there are no crops, no deforestation, and therefore our country is not a producer. But it is a transit country. As such, we have often seized drugs coming from Colombia, in the corridor that runs along the border from the eastern portion of the country to the Pacific, in the province of Esmeraldas. In the south, [along the border] with Peru, we have seized a portion of the drugs headed towards the province of El Oro. Coincidentally, in both places we found semi-submersibles and submersibles, one with a 20-ton capacity, that were well-equipped with very good technology and had the capacity to submerge to a depth of 15 meters, which would make them undetectable from the surface when at sea. Fortunately, we found them in nearby locations. They were under construction and had not been put to use. If they had been, they would have been very difficult to locate.

DIÁLOGO:
So they were being built in Ecuador. They didn’t come from Colombia...

Gen. Garzón:
We know that Colombia has captured quite a few. These semi-submersibles are being found in difficult to reach areas, such as swamps, where it is possible to hide. But when we have had good intelligence and good information, we’ve managed to locate them. So yes, we have become a transit country and that is a source of great concern, because we are starting to see drug use as well. There is microtrafficking among young people and that is very serious because the microtraffickers are starting to sell small amounts at very low prices in schools, which plants the seeds for new drug users. This is a matter of deep concern for us. We want to intervene in a timely manner, in order to eliminate drug use in one stroke.

DIÁLOGO:
…the same thing happened in Brazil, and now Brazil is the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world. And it started exactly the way you described...

Gen. Garzón:
Exactly. I mentioned at the conference today that we are interested in prevention. We need to learn from the experiences of neighboring countries, so we are not in the position of having to react to something that already has the upper hand. This drug scourge, which is a transnational threat, is a cause of significant concern.

DIÁLOGO:
What is the role of the Armed Forces in this regard?

Gen. Garzón:
The law provides the military with jurisdiction over the country’s airspace and territorial waters. The Navy, through the Maritime Police, has jurisdiction over drug trafficking in those two areas, but not on land, where it is the responsibility of the National Police. The Armed Forces play a supplemental role. This means that if there is no police presence, but there is the presence of a military garrison, however small it may be, it has the responsibility to retain but not detain, which means it can locate suspects, contact the police and prosecutors, and turn the suspects over to authorities. For example, if I retained a shipment of drugs and I would then provide it to you [the police]. Once the military takes control of this problem, the chain of custody is broken and obviously this provides drug traffickers with a chance to win at trial, because it is not the mission of the Armed Forces to detain drug traffickers. There is very strong support and coordination with the police so that when they are not present, we play a supplemental role and sometimes provide complementary support for the actions of the police, when they do not have the capacity.

DIÁLOGO:
Turning to disaster relief and humanitarian aid, which are roles assigned to the Armed Forces… the work of the Ecuadoran Armed Forces is well known in this area...

Gen. Garzón:
Yes, right now, I should point out, we are facing a problem in the Cotopaxi volcano. A week ago, the governor of the province of Cotopaxi – which shares the volcano’s name – issued a warning too early and ordered the evacuation of the area because the volcano was erupting, when we were still at a state of yellow alert. We had not moved on to orange or red alert, which is when the evacuation should have occurred. It alarmed the population, but we know that the cycle of eruptions for this volcano occurs every 120 years and that right now the cycle has been delayed for 18 years, so it can happen at any time. The Geophysical Institute, which has international support and is closely monitoring the volcano, warns that there could be an eruption, but first there have to be the initial symptoms, precise indicators for when it is about to happen, and then we would raise the alert level and warn the population. Without that, you run the risk that the 125,000 inhabitants living along the rivers fed by the volcano’s glacier will suffer devastation worse than a tsunami in the event the glacier melts. The level will rise 17 meters, with dirt, mud and water throughout the valley. It would be very dramatic if it were to happen without adequate preparation by the inhabitants, which is why they know what to do in case of an emergency. They must be fundamentally disciplined in confronting this threat. Families must react in a coordinated manner. That helps a lot with risk management. And the Armed Forces, as you mentioned, again become a mainstay to support risk management, because we have the capacity and equipment to deal with a challenge of this type.

DIÁLOGO:
Peacekeeping missions are another function for which the Ecuadoran Armed Forces are internationally known. Could you please discuss the missions the Ecuadoran Armed Forces are participating in around the world?

Gen. Garzón:
One of the missions that the Ministry of Defense Political Agenda (or White Paper) has given us is to support peacekeeping missions. We have about six or seven international missions. We just left Haiti (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti – MINUSTAH), where we did a very good job alongside Chile for five or six years. But we have also sent support to Haiti outside of the purview of the United Nations, through the Army Corps of Engineers, rebuilding roads, bridges, schools and hospitals in the region of Latibonit. The Corps of Engineers received a great deal of recognition for that work. We have not been able to provide monetary aid, but we carried out projects for them. We also helped Cuba rebuild Santiago de Cuba after the hurricane destroyed more than 100,000 homes, according to the available information. Ecuador built six four-story buildings, about 500 homes in total, which is a small number, but a substantial help, given the size of the country. Ecuador gives what it can. We must help those who suffer from these sorts of difficulties, because what goes around, comes around. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines we have also helped; we rebuilt three bridges that had been destroyed by flooding, isolating important agricultural regions. Ecuador, through the Corps of Engineers, built three bridges. It’s a major undertaking, without fanfare, that does not appear in the media.

DIÁLOGO:
What is your view on the military relations between the United States and Ecuador?

Gen. Garzón:
Military relations have always been very cordial and good. Each country follows the policy that its government sets, and obviously the Armed Forces have followed government policies in international relations. At times in the past, that has prevented a supportive relationship in areas such as those we have covered at this conference, with support against transnational threats and the challenges the region is facing. Above all, we have discussed drug trafficking, smuggling, smuggling weapons, ammunition and explosives, human trafficking, all of which are problems that affect the region. We need to sit down to see how we can support each other to solve these problems. For us, what has happened in Mexico is a clear example, where the Armed Forces intervened at the last minute. But they have told us that they didn’t act proactively; they reacted to the situation. Drug trafficking has infiltrated every government institution, which allows it to undermine these institutions. If the government, the courts, the police, the Armed Forces – which are law enforcement agencies – are infiltrated, they cannot provide the same results and discipline begins to crack, especially in institutions like ours, where there must be full unity and efficient organization in order to confront these kinds of challenges. The experience in Mexico was that they reacted quite late and that is costing them more time, more money and most importantly more lives. We can all see what is happening in Mexico and we also took the example of Colombia, although fortunately with Colombia, because of our proximity and status as neighbors, there is a good flow of information. Today we are reaffirming that we need better intelligence, better information and more actions based on the information that we have, because sometimes we have the information and we lack the capacity to respond to the many problems encountered along the border, such as migrations and displacements. We have a serious problem along the border, because citizens have dual nationality. When the Ecuadoran institutions exercise control, they say “I’m Ecuadoran” and show their identification card, but when the other side comes in, from Colombia, they switch sides and take out their Colombian ID. Whole families live like this, some on the Colombian side and some on the Ecuadoran side, and it is very difficult to determine their true nationality. They are Ecuadorans or Colombians based on what suits them and they receive support from both sides. These are problems that, if we don’t talk, can become serious problems, because these citizens along the border have been part of the logistics of the irregular forces, which we call the militias. They are the ones doing the grunt work and carrying out all of the logistics. It is not often noted, but they are well supplied there. It would seem that Ecuador supports them, but that is totally contrary to the policies of the government and its institutions to allow that. But these are the circumstances, where the logistics flows without being noticed, in this strip of territory where there is no effective control. The same happens in Peru with smuggling, particularly with gasoline and diesel. Ecuador subsidizes these products, so if a 15-kilo tank costs US$2.50 in Ecuador, in Colombia the same tank costs US$15 and in Peru, US$17. A family that takes two or three tanks a day has solved its problems. It’s a flow of contraband that never stops. Many people on these borders live off of smuggling and the government finds it very difficult to exercise effective control, even though the Armed Forces greatly assist the Customs Service. Many times we conduct seizures, but we often have to be a little more flexible because otherwise, the population has nothing to live on. And they just do the grunt work, while at sea a ship can leave with 200,000 gallons, which is equal to a whole year’s work for them along the two borders. It is a serious situation and if we don’t talk to each other and support each other... If, for example, a small plane crosses the border and Colombia doesn’t tell us, then that plane might land at a clandestine airstrip. That’s information, intelligence and action with regard to the situation. If we don’t talk, the traffickers have a free hand and the problem will be exacerbated. Before we know it, we will be totally overwhelmed by the situation it will cost the country a lot of money to take steps to control it. Ecuador is not going along lightly or quietly. These issues are of great concern to us and we are willing to make an effort so that this does not become a national scourge.
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