Last Wednesday Ecuador dismantled a weapons factory in Quito allegedly supplying arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Evidence is still scant, but it would not be the first time that Ecuador is accused of harboring FARC-friendly arms-trafficking rings inside its territory.
The raid, which took place March 2, resulted in the arrests of five people and the confiscation of a weapons cache, including about 1,500 ammunition shells, a 9 mm machine gun, and several semi-automatic rifles, reports Ecuadorean newspaper El Comercio. The alleged arms trafficking ring also reportedly maintained a cocaine laboratory and dabbled in petty theft.
The owner of the weapons factory, Marco Narvaez Santacruz, apparently traveled to the U.S. in December on business. His current whereabouts are unknown. He had a license to produce low-caliber weapons but not the long-range firearms found by the police, according to EFE.
Santacruz’s alleged links to the FARC are made clear in a diary found at the scene, police told the media. The document reportedly speaks of producing weapons for the 29th and 48th Front, both active near the Colombian border with Ecuador.
These Fronts are two of the strongest units in the Southern Bloc, with the 48th Front responsible for handling drug-trafficking operations and the 29th Front in charge of running the supply lines from Ecuador, which includes smuggling food, medicine and weapons.
The FARC have previously maintained munitions factories for making anti-personnel mines on Ecuadorean territory, in the border province of Sucumbios. In light of the Colombian government’s succesful offensive against the FARC, which pushed the guerrillas to the rural fringes of the country, in recent years Sucumbios has become an especially important safehaven for the rebels. In 2009, the Colombian government complained that the FARC were maintaining at least a dozen camps, housing 1,800 combatants, in the border province.
Ecuador is also a principle source of explosive material, including ANFO or ammonium nitrate, which is often used in mining, for the FARC. The high level of mining activity in northern Ecuador means there is already much demand for ANFO, dynamite and other explosive materials, which at times are diverted and sold to middlemen, who then sell the material to the FARC.
One of the most notorious FARC middlemen operating in Ecuador is Oliver Solarte. Reportedly based in Puerto Nuevo, he is believed to have negotiated the business relationship between the guerrillas and the Mexican drug trafficking organizations, including perhaps the Sinaloa Cartel. It is believed that he is also charged with bribing the local Ecuadorean military and police officials.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), one of the FARC’s main sources of armaments is corrupt officials in the Ecuadorean army. Ecuador reportedly maintains 7,500 troops permanently posted along the border, but the military has previously been accused of acquiescing with the FARC. In April 2009, an Ecuadorean anti-corruption comission found that the FARC paid massive bribes to military officials in order to ensure the guerrillas could continue operating peacefully in the territory.
This echoes the relationship once established between the rebels and corrupt elements of the Peruvian army, also reponsible for providing the FARC with weaponry. In 1999, the Peruvian army bought 10,000 AK-47 assault rifles from Jordan and sold them to an arms dealer, who diverted the weapons to the guerrillas.
According to the UNODC, some of the most common arms trafficking routes in Ecuador include Quito-Ibarra-Tulcan-Ipiales or Quito-Esmeraldas-Tumaco. Given the complex river system in Colombia’s border state Putumayo, it is belived that river and maritime routes are also frequently used to smuggle arms.