Over the last decade, Ecuador has quietly emerged as a key piece of the global drug trade, with up to a third of Colombia’s record cocaine production now exported through the country.
Cocaine produced in southern Colombia is trafficked into Ecuador through the lawless border provinces of Esmeraldas and Sucumbíos by ex-FARC Mafia groups. Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel has also made its presence felt.
These networks have penetrated the state, contaminating the security forces, the judiciary, and the highest levels of government.
Little attention is paid to Ecuador. The murder rate is low, and there are no drug cartels like those that have dominated the criminal landscape in Mexico and Colombia. Yet Ecuador is one of the world’s cocaine superhighways.
For the Ecuadorean province of Esmeraldas on the Pacific side of the Colombia border, 2019 began with a warning that the horrors of the past year were no aberration.
In January 2019, heavily armed gunmen traveling in a truck and on a motorbike ambushed a small group of anti-narcotics agents in Sucumbíos, the Ecuadorean province that borders Colombia in the Amazon region. The shootout that followed left one agent dead, and two more severely injured.
Gerald’s rise to becoming one of the most notorious drug traffickers Ecuador has produced to date was meteoric. But his fall has been just as dramatic, exposing not only the violence and betrayal characteristic of the cocaine trade, but also the corruption that is rotting away the Ecuadorean state from within.
For Ecuador, the death of one of the country’s most notorious homegrown drug traffickers was the end of an era. But for his Mexican bosses, Telmo Castro’s demise will do little to interrupt their thriving pipeline of cocaine through Ecuador.