Uruguay and Ecuador strengthen ties in fight against drug trafficking
By Dialogo November 21, 2013
Uruguay and Ecuador recently agreed to strengthen their ties in the countries' joint battle against international drug trafficking. The two nations agreed to share information and to collaborate in the fight against organized crime syndicates.
The countries reached agreements to “reinforce and strengthen” their bilateral relations on a number of issues, including cooperation and the exchange of information to develop new approaches to combat drug trafficking. Uruguayan Vice Chancellor Luis Porto and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Marco Albuja, issued a joint press statement expressing “the need to seek different approaches to combat the problem” of international drug trafficking.
The two countries signed an agreement on cooperation and exchange of information in order to “learn from each other’s practices.”
Drug use in Uruguay
Organized crime groups not only transport illegal drugs through Uruguay and send them north to Mexico and the United States, they also sell drugs domestically.
About 180,000 people in Uruguay consume illegal drugs, according to federal government statistics. That is about 5.5 percent of the country’s population of 3.5 million people. About 3,000 inmates are imprisoned in Uruguayan prisons for drug trafficking offenses.
Drug use impacts Uruguayan society in many ways. For example, drug use has had a negative impact on public education.
The Health Commission of the Uruguayan Senate recently conducted a hearing on public education.
Public education officials told senators that drug use is one of the reasons some public school students are not learning as much as they should.
Ecuador uses technology to fight drug trafficking
In October 2013, the Ecuadorian Navy and civilian police forces collaborated to seize 799 kilos of cocaine in the country’s territorial waters, drugs which were destined for Central America and ultimately the United States.
Ecuadorian security forces used advanced technology to locate and seize the boat that was carrying the cocaine. On Oct. 13, the Unit Against Organized Crime (ULCO) of the National Police alerted the Navy of a Panamanian-flagged vessel which was suspected of transporting illegal drugs off the Ecuadorian coast. The Navy sent several drones into the air to track down the boat. The Navy uses unmanned aircraft to track down suspicious boats and gather information.
The drones located the suspicious boat, named “Doria,” about 130 nautical miles southwest of the port of Manta. The Manta Naval Air Station transmitted the location of the Doria to a Coast Guard boat named the “Isla Santa Cruz.” The Coast Guard vessel, commanded by Lt. Lenin Alvarado Flores, intercepted the Doria. Coast Guard authorities boarded the Doria, and found nearly 800 kilograms of cocaine wrapped in 700 packages. Coast Guard authorities detained the Doria’s five-person crew.
National Police anti-narcotics investigators had learned a transnational drug trafficking organization was operating in the region, smuggling drugs in large boats, a few days before the Coast Guard intercepted the Doria. The National Police provided the information to the Navy, authorities said.
Drug trafficking leads to other crimes
Countries throughout Latin America are battling drug trafficking and related criminal enterprises.
For example, in recent years, the number of kidnapping and extortion cases has increased in Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. In Colombia, many of these offenses are committed by organized crime groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
In El Salvador and Guatemala, the street gangs Mara Salvatrucha, which is also known as MS-13, and Barrio 18 are responsible for many kidnappings and extortions, according to security forces in those countries. The Lorenzana drug trafficking organization and the Mexican organized crime groups Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, also operate in Guatemala.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently visited the military officials of seven Central American and Caribbean countries to discuss how security forces throughout the region could cooperate on security matters. In late September 2013, Pinzon met with military officials in Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.
Pinzon and officials from the other countries discussed the possibility of increasing opportunities for the Colombian military and National Police to fight international drug trafficking and other crimes, such as extortion and kidnapping.
International cooperation is crucial in the fight against kidnapping and extortion, according to Colombian Gen. Humberto Guatibonza, director of the Unified Action Groups for Liberty, or GAULA, Colombia’s anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion unit. The GAULA is respected around the world for its effectiveness in combatting organized crime.
In Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, “kidnapping has become a major transnational scourge to the point we simply have to join forces,” Guatibonza said.
Security forces in the Dominican Republic and Chile have achieved important successes in recent months in fighting organized crime.
For example, in Chile, between January and mid-November 2013, security forces have seized 80 percent more drugs than they did during the same time period in 2012.
Authorities attribute much of the success to the OS-7 anti-narcotics unit of the Chilean National Police, which is known as the Carabiniers. The increase in the amount of drugs seized by Chilean security forces in 2013 reflects increased activity by international drug traffickers, and the high level of professionalism of Chilean police, according to security analyst Jeremy McDermott, director of InSight Crime, an independent research institution with headquarters in Medellin, Colombia.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities have lowered the homicide rate and improved overall public safety, thanks to a series of strong police initiatives. The homicide rate in the Caribbean country is down to 16.6 killings per 100,000 inhabitants.
The homicide rate has not been that low since 2003, according to Manuel Castro Castillo, chief of the Dominican Republic National Police.
In addition to reaching agreements to cooperate in the battle against international drug trafficking, Ecuadorian and Uruguayan officials also discussed other important aspects of the two countries’ bilateral relationship.
Ecuador and Uruguay agreed to support the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Inter-American Human Rights System.
Officials from the two countries also discussed the importance of developing information technology in the region and, sharing scientific and technological developments