Ecuador began 2022 with a record seizure of 25 tons of drugs and a spike in violence with more than 300 murders through mid-February, the EFE news agency reported. The previous year marked an outbreak of violence, with an average of 13 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, the worst figure in the last 10 years, the Ecuadorian newspaper Primicias said.
According to authorities, the porous land borders with Colombia and Peru have turned Ecuador into one of the main storage and exit points for international narcotrafficking to the United States and Europe, bringing rising levels of insecurity.
Among the signs of accelerating violence in the country was the February 14, 2022 discovery of two corpses hanging by their feet from a bridge in the city of Durán, near the port city of Guayaquil — a regular practice for narcotrafficking groups in Mexico. Authorities have acknowledged possible links between regional gangs and Mexican cartels such as Jalisco New Generation and the Sinaloa Cartel.
“It is undeniable that the material and financial backing the [Mexican cartels] provide to Ecuadorian groups have contributed to intensifying violence,” the international organization InSight Crime said.
Lockdowns and the container crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 affected the shipment of drugs, which accumulated in storage centers in Guayas, Manabí, Esmeraldas, and Carchi, among other places. The Ecuadorian anti-narcotics police made use of the situation to carry out a large number of operations throughout 2021, seizing a historical record of 210 tons of drugs and arresting more than 13,000 people connected to narcotrafficking, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio reported.
Minister of Government Alexandra Vela warned that the more authorities hit narcotrafficking, the more violent the response of these criminal organizations could be, since “there is basically a war [going on] among the State, Ecuadorian society, and organized criminal groups,” she told the press in early February.
In October 2021, the government decreed a state of exception and deployed the military on the streets to confront violence and conduct firearm and drug controls, searches, inspections, and patrols. “In the streets, there is only one enemy: narcotrafficking,” Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said when announcing the state of exception. The government also allocated a budget to purchase equipment and vehicles and provide technical training that will ensure better conditions for the police to combat organized crime.
International cooperation remains essential to tackle transnational organized crime. In mid-February, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Ecuadorian national Wilder Sánchez Farfán, one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s main suppliers. Authorities accuse Sánchez Farfán of manufacturing drugs in labs in southern Colombia and transferring them to Ecuador to eventually send them to Mexico by air, sea, and land.
Information exchange as part of regional forces’ intelligence efforts has also been crucial to seize drugs and dismantle criminal gangs. “We cannot wage this fight alone in Ecuador; it has to be done on a regional scale,” Manuel Silva, deputy director of the National Police’s Special Investigation Center, said in an interview with Primicias.