The governments of Colombia and Ecuador have agreed to ramp up security cooperation along their shared border as criminal violence related to shifting underworld dynamics in Colombia spills over into the country's Andean neighbor.
Following an annual bilateral security summit on February 14 and 15, military officials from Colombia and Ecuador announced a ramping up of joint aerial, naval and land operations against drug trafficking and organized crime groups in the border area.
President Juan Manuel Santos also said his government would double the reward for information that could lead to the arrest of a leader of a dissident faction of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
The suspect, known by the alias "Guacho," was blamed for involvement in last month's car bombing of a police station in the port town of San Lorenzo, Ecuador, near the Colombian border. The attack injured 28 individuals and destroyed 95 percent of the police building, prompting Ecuadorean authorities to declare a local state of emergency and deploy an additional 600 soldiers in the area.
On February 17, just days after the announcement of increased security cooperation, Ecuador’s military clashed with a group of armed men in San Lorenzo. No fatalities were recorded on either side, but a suspect was detained during what Ecuador’s military described as a repelled cross-border aggression.
— Patricio Zambrano R (@PatoZambranoR) February 18, 2018
Officials have not yet established the identity of the armed group responsible for the latest border clash. But recent developments suggest that it could be the work of Guacho and the dissident Daniel Aldana Mobile Column he leads, and which refused to demobilize under the FARC peace agreement.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although uncertainty remains as to the identity of the group responsible for the latest shootout, the events are clearly a spillover from Colombia’s criminal dynamics. And recent violent developments in Ecuador suggest this border incursion could be part of a continued attempt by dissident FARC factions to secure strategic Ecuadorean border areas.
This includes the San Lorenzo coastal area, which offers the perfect characteristics for drug trafficking groups seeking a departure point for international cocaine shipments.
The port town is located just across the porous border from Tumaco, Colombia’s top coca-growing municipality. Once considered FARC territory, Tumaco has suffered violent outbreaks since the November 2016 signing of the peace agreement with the rebels, as various criminal groups have attempted to establish dominance there. Last month, Colombia’s government deployed 2,000 military troops to Tumaco in an attempt to crack down on rising violence linked to the drug trade.
SEE ALSO: Ecuador News and Profile
Now, it seems this bloody competition for control has started to spill over into neighboring Ecuador.
San Lorenzo offers access to the Pacific Ocean via several estuaries that cut through an ecological reserve preserving the world’s highest mangrove forest, which offers perfect cover for the transport of drugs. And in addition to serving as an exit point, its vicinity to the border with Colombia means the town likely serves as transit area for cocaine departing from the rest of the Pacific coast, which has emerged as a major launchpad for international drug shipments.