Ecuador: Drug enforcement efforts strengthened at airports
By Dialogo January 25, 2012
GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador – The South American nations' major airports have become focal points in the fight against drug trafficking.
“We often deal with passengers who are attempting to transport cocaine to Europe and heroin to the United States,” said Abraham Cheing, coordinating director of the Public Prosecutor’s Office at Guayaquil’s José Joaquín de Olmedo Airport.
From August to November 2011, the most recent months for which statistics are available, the Guayaquil airport registered 104 cases involving possession of narcotic and psychotropic substances, resulting in 67 arrests, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the airport.
“The latest modus operandi we’ve uncovered is the most picturesque,” Cheing said. “They use condoms filled with liquid drugs, which are attached to their bodies.”
In the country’s other major airport, Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International, drug confiscation rates are even higher.
During the last 10 days of November, drug enforcement agents confiscated 19 kilograms (41.8 pounds) of cocaine. Seven Ecuadorans and three foreigners were arrested.
The crackdown by police in Ecuador’s airports has forced drug-trafficking networks to resort to sending drugs through private couriers and the mail, Chieng said.
“It’s an indirect manner of transporting the drugs, and it’s nearly impossible to determine who is responsible,” he added. “During a single week, from November 21 to Nov. 27, we confiscated approximately three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of cocaine from these alternative modes of transportation.”
In total, counter-narcotics enforcement agents carried out 1,790 operations throughout Ecuador during the first half of 2011, which led to the confiscation of 11.3 tons of hallucinogens and the arrest of 2,082 suspects accused of producing, marketing and shipping drugs.
Of that total, 789 were arrested in Guayaquil, the country’s second-largest city after the capital city of Quito.
In March, counter-narcotics agents arrested four Ecuadorans, three Mexicans and two Colombians suspected of being members of a cell linked to the Mexico-based Sinaloa cartel, which is headed by drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The cartel has extended its operations to Colombia and Ecuador, officials said.
In September, the police’s Drug Enforcement Intelligence Service (SIAN) discovered that a criminal group, led by a Mexican, was using an aid agency in Esmeraldas, known as the Fundación de Asistencia Social y Apadrinamiento en el Ecuador (Foundation for social assistance and sponsorship in Ecuador —FASAE), as a front for trafficking narcotics to Africa and Europe.
Drug enforcement police also have located major drug processing facilities.
During the last week of November, police uncovered a modern drug processing lab hidden among several hills in the canton of Pedro Carbo, in the province of Guayas. Law enforcement agents confiscated 12 tons of narcotics in the province in 2011 after seizing seven tons a year earlier, said Freddy Ramos, chief of the Drug Enforcement Police in Guayas.
The lab, which would have been operated by children and adults, was on the verge of opening. The drug traffickers abandoned it after another lab run by the network was dismantled in Cumandá, in the province of Chimborazo.
Drug enforcement agents were surprised by what they found at the lab, which had generators, underground storage areas, bunk beds, refrigerators, microwaves and other structures for storing chemicals and packing drugs.
The lab, which was capable of producing two tons of narcotics monthly, was the fifth drug processing facility dismantled nationwide in 2011.