Ecuador Works With U.S. and Mexico to Foil Cocaine Smuggling Network
By Dialogo May 16, 2013
QUITO — Authorities in Ecuador have thwarted a major cocaine producing and smuggling network that had links to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, government officials said. Police carried out the raid, dubbed Operation Aluvión, on May 6 and 7 in the port city of Guayaquil and in Santa Rosa y Machala, in the province of El Oro.
“The head of the organization was arrested, and he is the link with drug cartels in other countries,” said Interior Minister José Serrano. He and Gen. Rodrigo Suárez, general police commander, told reporters at a May 7 news conference that the arrests included four Mexican citizens and five Ecuadorians. They allegedly belong to an international crime organization that moves significant amounts of narcotics from Ecuador to Mexico by sea.
Operation Aluvión began on April 18 with a phone call alerting Ecuador’s National Anti-Drugs Department and the Anti-Drug Research Unit of the imminent movement of four tons of cocaine to a Central American country by yacht.
“The drugs were hidden in the bottom of a yacht called Green Onion, with a Mexican flag, which was in transit through Ecuadorian waters near the Galapagos Islands,” said Ecuadorian authorities. Those authorities told reporters they were unable to reach the Green Onion before it entered international waters, so they notified the U.S. Coast Guard through the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The three drug smugglers, all of them Mexicans, set the yacht on fire and jumped in the waters after realizing they had been spotted by the Steadfast, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. The capture took place 337 miles from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, officials said. The same intelligence that led to the Green Onion alerted Ecuadorian authorities to the land operations.
On May 6, three units of the anti-narcotics special force swept the San José banana farm in La Tembladera, in the province of El Oro. There they found an armed guard with 453 kilograms of cocaine, and more than $276,000 in cash. The manager of the farm was a Mexican citizen.
On May 7, the police raided several houses belonging to gang members in the city of Machala. The investigation has not yet determined which laboratory produced the drugs, since the farm was used mainly for storage and distribution.
Gang members captured in the provinces of Guayas and El Oro are directly linked to the Green Onion yacht, according to Serrano.
Ecuador’s intelligence services had been following the Mexican leader of the group, Manuel de Jesús Acosta Alvarado, at his homes in Machala and Santa Rosa, and established his connections to the Sinaloa cartel, which is led by the fugitive Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Acosta Alvarado entered Ecuador in January and has been active in several cities along the coastal region, said Serrano, who estimated that Operation Aluvión prevented 400 million cocaine doses from getting to consumers.
So far this year, Ecuadorian officials have seized 14.5 tons of illicit substances, Serrano said.