A shootout between police allegedly smuggling drugs and their colleagues has left two officers dead and ratcheted up concerns over the deepening role of the police in Ecuador's drug trade.
According to a statement made by Ecuador's Vice Minister of the Interior Diego Fuentes, on January 4 special ops police, intelligence forces and anti-organized crime police intercepted three policemen travelling in a patrol car, reported La Hora. Attempts to disarm the three sparked a shootout that claimed the lives of two officers -- one a suspect, the other an arresting officer.
Fuentes said the three were carrying 31 kilos of marijuana, which authorities believe had been smuggled in from Colombia and were intended for Ecuador's domestic market, reported El Comercio.
The clash took place in the province of Esmeraldas, a main drug trafficking artery on the border with Colombia.
In the wake of the violence, El Comercio reported that intelligence reports suggest Colombian insurgent groups and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel have been seeking to corrupt police officials in Ecuador.
InSight Crime Analysis
There have been numerous cases in recent years that suggest police corruption has grown hand in hand with Ecuador's status as a drug transit nation. However, this latest case suggests this dynamic has evolved beyond the simplest and most traditional forms of corruption associated with the drug trade.
At the most basic level, drug traffickers operating in transit countries such as Ecuador will bribe security forces to ensure the unhindered passage of drug shipments. The level of cooperation may expand to include police providing intelligence to trafficking rings or even acting against rival traffickers based on information the criminals themselves provide.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
However, in Esmeraldas it appears the police were actually smuggling the drugs, actively participating in trafficking to the extent that they were even willing to open fire against colleagues to protect their shipment and themselves.
It is also significant that they were moving marijuana. Whereas previous cases have mostly involved cocaine destined for foreign markets, as authorities stated the marijuana was likely smuggled from Colombia into Ecuador for domestic consumption, suggesting the police are now also involved in micro-trafficking within Ecuador.
Much of Colombia's marijuana production is controlled by rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), adding weight to El Comerico's as yet unconfirmed claims that Colombian insurgent groups are corrupting Ecuador's police.