HomeNewsAnalysisEcuador: Battleground Between Mexican and Colombian Cartels?
ANALYSIS

Ecuador: Battleground Between Mexican and Colombian Cartels?

ECUADOR / 28 SEP 2012 BY EDWARD FOX EN

Mexican and Colombian groups may soon start battling it out for control of drug trafficking routes in Ecuador, something that could further threaten the country’s already precarious security situation.

The drug trade through Ecuador has historically been controlled by Colombia’s criminal groups who, until recently, essentially held a monopoly over corridors moving through and out of the country. This is gradually changing however, with Mexican transnational criminal groups interested in moving further down the drug chain to cut out Colombian middlemen. As one anti-narcotics agent told El Comercio, “Colombian cartels no longer have the same power.”

Mexican gangs linked to Ecuador’s drug trade had traditionally played the role of buyers from Colombian cartels, due to the fact that they didn't have the operational capacity to move their own product from Ecuador northwards, another anti-narcotics official told the newspaper.

However, this Colombian-dominated supply chain endured until some point in 2011, according to El Comercio. Now, intelligence sources suggest that Mexican cartels are trying to take complete control. As El Comercio notes, the arrest of three Mexicans and seizure of their ”go-fast” boat off the coast of San Vicente, Manabi in June, underscores how Mexican gangs now have the capacity to transport their own shipments. GPS data obtained from the boat indicated that the boat had left Mexico, stopped in Central America to refuel, before arriving in Ecuador.

This means previous alliances, such as that between the Colombian Rastrojos and Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, could break down as they battle each other for control of departure points and routes.

This is yet to turn into open confrontation. Instead, gangs are seeking to damage their rivals by tipping off Ecuadorean authorities on the locations of cocaine shipments. Between June and September this year, 1.9 tons of cocaine was seized in the coastal province of Manabi. Eighty percent of these seizures were the result of police paying $20,000-$40,000 to gang members for information on their competitor's shipments, a high-ranking police official stated.

InSight Crime Analysis

If the disintegration of the relationship between Mexican and Colombian groups in Ecuador is true to the extent El Comercio states, Ecuador could be set for what could be a destabilizing confrontation. The US State Department’s 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report estimated that 220 tons of cocaine pass through the country each year. While this figure may be on the high side, it is nonetheless representative of Ecuador’s importance as transhipment point and how highly prized it is for cocaine cartels.

Most interesting is the shift in dynamic this would represent. Jay Bergman, Andean regional director for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told InSight Crime that the role of Colombian gangs as wholesalers is well established, with Mexicans typically controlling the trafficking routes. If Mexican groups attempt to move further down the supply chain, Colombian gangs are unlikely to give up their position without a fight.

Ecuador drug trafficking routes1

They may be on the back foot, however, as the Mexican groups have been stepping up their presence in recent years. The capture of nine Sinaloa Cartel operatives last year in Ecuador and discovery of two alleged Mexican narco-planes in the past 12 months – one with 1.5 tons of cocaine on board, the other $4 million – is evidence of this.

The question, therefore, is whether Ecuador is prepared. An internal military report seen by El Comercio earlier this year found that Ecuadorean authorities had vastly underestimated the threat posed to the country by organized crime and that if “adequate measures” were not taken soon, the country could be overwhelmed by gang activity. Since the report, the government announced it would train around 4,000 troops to combat organized crime. This may still be insufficient, however, if Colombian and Mexican groups begin openly fighting.

One dynamic the El Comercio report failed to address is the role of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuador. The guerrillas have a strong presence along the border (see map, right), bringing coca base over from southern Colombia to sell on to Mexican groups. It is unlikely that Mexican cartels would challenge the guerrillas, who are not only heavily armed, but control most of the coca plantations on the Colombian side of the border.

For now, the confrontation is playing out in a clandestine manner. However, Mexican cartels have shown a wish to take greater control of the links further down the drug chain, to further maximize their profits. This may turn Ecuador into a battle ground between some of the most powerful criminal organizations in the hemisphere.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HOMICIDES / 9 AUG 2022

Little clarity has followed the brazen assassination of a local police chief in northern Mexico.

COCAINE / 9 FEB 2021

On April 30, 1984, the Mercedes taking Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla home after work was strafed with machine…

JALISCO CARTEL / 11 JUL 2022

Despite Mexico ranking as the second-most devout Catholic country on the planet, clerics have found no salvation from extortion, beatings…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…