Ecuadorean security forces make series of large drug seizures
By Dialogo November 29, 2013
Ecuadorean law enforcement authorities recently seized more than 3.5 tons of drugs in more than 100 security operations.
Security forces seized the drugs during a span of seven days in mid-November 2013. Security forces also captured 83 suspected drug trafficking operatives. Among them were 75 Ecuadoreans, six Colombians, and two Mexican nationals. Security forces also detained 14 minors who allegedly collaborated with the drug traffickers.
By late November, security forces had seized 53 tons of drugs. The yearly record for drug seizures in Ecuador is 68 tons, which were seized in 2009.
The volume of drugs seized by Ecuadorean security forces has increased dramatically in recent years.’
In 2010, security forces seized 18 tons of drugs. In 2011, authorities seized 26 tons of drugs.
A transit point for drug trafficking
The November operations closely followed a major drug seizure in late October 2013.
In that operation, Ecuadorean security forces found and seized more than a half-ton of drugs – cocaine alkaloid -- in the seaport of Guayaquil. Security forces found the cocaine alkaloid hidden inside a container filled with pineapples. Drug traffickers intended to transport the cocaine alkaloid by boat to Belgium, according to police Gen. William Balarezo, commander of the Guayas province police district.
The port drug seizure was reported by Interior Minister Jose Serrano, via his Twitter account.
The series of large drug seizures indicate that Ecuador is becoming an important transit point for drug traffickers who smuggle drugs to Europe and Asia, a security analyst said.
“Drug smugglers are increasingly using Ecuador as a shipping point directly to the intended markets,” explained Hector Chavez, a security analyst at the University of Guayaquil.
Drug traffickers are decreasing the volume of drugs they transport to Central American markets through Ecuador, Chavez said. “Lower volumes of drugs are being shipped to Central American markets or Mexico from Ecuador,” Chavez said. “Criminals have realized that it is more cost effective and less risky to ship directly to European and Asian markets directly from Ecuador,” Chavez said.
Targeted police operations
Ecuadorean police have made a large series of drug seizures by specifically targeting and focusing on organized crime groups, said Bertha Garcia, a security analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador.
“Ecuador is not a drug-producing country, but it is a country of drug collection and passage,” the security analyst said. “Drug shipments come in from Peru and Colombia. Although we cannot say these are huge quantities of drugs which are being seized, because Ecuador is a small country, but the volume is obviously increasing.”
‘El Chapo’ in Ecuador
The Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, two violent Mexican transnational criminal organizations, operate in Ecuador, transporting drugs, according to authorities and security analysts.
In February 2013, 19 inmates escaped from a high-security Ecuadorian prison in Guayaquil, located about 420 kilometers south of Quito.
Among the escapees was Cesar Demar Vernaza Quinonez, who is known as “The Entrepreneur.” He is the leader of a gang, known as “The Courageous,” which collaborates with the Sinaloa Cartel, authorities said. The Courageous transports and protects drug shipments for the cartel, which is led by fugitive drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Colombian security forces recaptured The Entrepreneur in that country in April 2013. Authorities extradited The Entrepreneur to Ecuador, where he is facing drug trafficking charges.
Large drug seizures
Ecuadorean security forces have used intelligence, technology, and cooperation with the Armed Forces to make a series of important drug seizures in recent months, according to Deputy Interior Minister Javier Cordoba.
Among the seizures:
• In October 2013, the Ecuadorian Navy and police forces collaborated to seize 799 kilos of cocaine in the country’s territorial waters, drugs which were destined for Central America and ultimately north to the United States, authorities reported. Advanced technology helped the authorities find the boat that was smuggling the cocaine, according to Naval officials.
• Also in October 2013, Ecuador's anti-narcotic agents from the National Police seized at least three tons of cocaine in an operation held in the southwestern coastal province of Santa Elena, Ecuador's Interior Minister Jose Serrano announced. Security forces captured 11 suspects, Serrano announced via Twitter. The suspects were connected to a powerful Colombian drug trafficking organization, "Los Urabeños,” Serrano said via Twitter.
• In May 2013, Ecuadorian police arrested five Ecuadoreans and four Mexicans who were suspected of being part of a drug trafficking network. Police also seized 453 kilograms of cocaine and $276,567 in cash. The arrests and seizures were part of part of “Operación Aluvión.”
• In April 2013, Ecuadorean police alerted the Coast Guard that a yacht, the “Green Onion,” was transporting a large quantity of cocaine. The Coast Guard pursued the boat, which escaped into international waters. The Ecuadorian Navy alerted the U.S. Coast Guard, which captured the boat in waters near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. When they realized they were about to be captured, the crew burned about four tons of cocaine.
Ecuadorean citizens are helping security forces by providing information about the suspected activities of drug traffickers, authorities said. Such cooperation is crucial in the battle against drug traffickers and other organized crime groups, according to security analysts.
For example, information received from citizens led to the security operation “No Return,” in late November 2013, authorities said.
Security forces received information from a citizen or citizens that drugs were hidden in a fiber boat docked at Las Piedras Viejas in Tachina, Esmereldas. Security forces inspected the boat and found 208 packages of cocaine hidden on the vessel, authorities said,.
Ecuador cooperates with Peru and Colombia in fight against organized crime
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa recently signed agreements with the presidents of Peru and Colombia that call on the three countries to cooperate in the fight against organized crime. 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.
Nine days before that meeting, Correa and the president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, agreed to have their respective security forces strengthen their cooperation in the battle against human trafficking and the illegal sales of stolen fuel.
Humala and Correa announced the initiatives after they met on Nov. 14, 2013, in the city of Piura, Peru, near the Ecuadorean border. The meeting between of the two presidents concluded the VII Binational Ministerial Cabinet Meeting.
The two presidents announced they had signed the two security cooperation agreements.