Ecuador and Colombia cooperate in fight against organized crime
By Dialogo November 28, 2013
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos discussed Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), during a binational meeting held on Nov. 25, 2013.
The two leaders met in the border region which divides the two countries, in the Colombian city of Ipiales.
Correa, Santos, the foreign ministers of both countries and several Ecuadorean and Colombian Cabinet ministers met for about four hours to discuss progress on agreements that were reached during the First Binational Cabinet meeting between the two countries. That meeting was held in December 2012 in the Ecuadorean city of Tulcán.
Following the Nov. 25 meeting, Correa and Santos signed eight agreements regarding issues such as security, transportation, education, tourism, and the oil industry.
Cooperating to fight organized crime
The two countries reached positive agreements that will strengthen cooperation in the fight against drug cartels and other organized crime groups, Correa said.
“Where we have met most of our objectives is in security. We have to give transnational crime a collective response between the two countries," Correa said during the meeting with Colombian officials.
Ecuador and Colombia share a border that is 730 kilometers long. The FARC and other organized crime groups, as well as common criminals, are active in the region. Organized crime operatives and common criminals smuggle drugs and weapons, engage in human trafficking, and commit other crimes in the border region.
Ecuador and Colombia have been cooperating closely on security in recent years.
The capture of ‘Palustre’
For example, in August 2013, Ecuadorean security forces captured Jorge Dominguez, an alleged gang leader who is wanted in Colombia. He is known as “Palustre” and is suspected of being the leader of Los Rastrojos, a violent Colombian drug trafficking organization.
Los Rastrojos trafficks cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, and engages in illegal gold mining. Los Rastrojos was formed in the mid-2000s by Wilber Varela, who was a leader of the Norte del Valle drug trafficking organization. Varela formed Los Rastrojos when he broke away from Diego Leon Montoya, who had been his co-leader with Norte del Valle. Montoya is known as “Don Diego.”
In September, 2007, Colombian security forces captured Don Diego. Through cooperation with the United States, in December 2008 Colombian authorities extradited Don Diego to the U.S. to face federal drug trafficking charges. Varela, who was known as “Jabon,” was killed in January 2008. Authorities suspect he was killed by fellow organized crime members.
Palustre was deported to Colombia, according to José Serrano, Ecuador’s Interior Minister.
In recent years, about 57,000 Colombians have crossed into Ecuador to flee the violence generated by FARC, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Ecuador has welcomed the refugees, Correa said, adding that they “did not leave by will, they were driven out by violence.”
Because of the violence caused by FARC, Colombia is the country with the highest number of internally displaced people in the world, according to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).
Colombia has 4.9 million displaced people, according to the IDMC report. Violent organized crime groups are responsible for most of the displacement, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). There were 137 mass displacements in Colombia in 2012, which displaced more than 9,000 Colombians, according to the UNHCR.
Violence and threats
Violence caused by fighting between rival organized crime groups, including street gangs and transnational drug trafficking organizations, is responsible for much of the displacement, according to the UNHCR. Thousands of people have fled their Colombian communities to escape threats by the FARC and other organized crime groups. Criminal groups pressure teenagers and young men to join their organizations and engage in illegal enterprises, such as illicit gold mining.
Organized crime violence has created displacement in every region of Colombia. The departments most affected by displacement include Narino, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Cordoba, and Antioquia, the UNHCR found.
The importance of cooperation
Because they share a border and face many of the same security issues, cooperation between Ecuador and Colombia is crucial in the battle against organized crime, a security analyst said.
“Colombia and Ecuador have many important common topics they need to tackle together, so binational cabinets are a great step towards achieving these common goals," explained Hector Chavez, a security analyst at the University of Guayaquil. “We must keep in mind that because of the challenges the FARC poses to Colombia and the region, safety should always be one of the main topics to be discussed between the two nations.”
Santos thanks Correa
Colombian President Santos thanked Ecuadorean President Correa for the support has given the process of peace talks with the FARC. Colombian officials have been meeting with representatives of the FARC in Havana. The discussions began in 2012.
Colombian security forces have been fighting the FARC for more than 50 years.
Santos said he appreciated the support Correa has voiced for the peace talks.
“I want to reiterate my thanks for (Correa’s) continued support for the peace process. Since the beginning he has been aware and has indicated his willingness to support this process, which he defines as important not only for Colombia but for the entire region,” Santos said .
Officials inaugurated the Rumichaca International Bridge during the binational meeting. The bridge was completed in eight months.
Treaty to fight border crime
A week before Correa and Santos met, the top federal prosecutors of Ecuador and Colombia signed an agreement to improve the exchange of information when it comes to battling weapons smuggling, human trafficking, and other crime along the border shared by the two countries.
The agreement was signed during the XXI Assembly of the American Association of Public Prosecutors. The assembly was held in Quito, Ecuador. During the meeting, officials from Colombia and Ecuador discussed what legal tools they could share to fight transnational criminal organizations.
Ecuador is proposing to create a Criminal Court of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to expedite the investigation and punishment of crimes committed by organized groups which cross international borders. The idea is supported by Colombian officials.
Such a court would specialize in taking cases involving defendants who are affiliated with organized crime groups, said Colombian Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre.
Exchange of sports jerseys
Presidents Santos and Correa exchanged gifts from their native countries at the end of the binational conference. The two presidents exchanged jerseys from their respective national futbol teams, which will be competing in the 2014 World Cup, which will be held in Brazil.
“Good luck in the World Cup, you have a great team, good luck, except when you play with Ecuador of course,” Correa said with a laugh as he presented an Ecuadorean team jersey to Santos.
Very detailed, really chock-full of information. It was important for my in my research.