More than 20,000 kilos of cement, thought to be intended for cocaine production in Colombia, were seized by Ecuadorean soldiers at a border crossing in January, highlighting the importance of the frontier region in supplying Colombian criminal groups.
A report by Ecuadorean newspaper El Comerico describes how a bridge crossing into Colombia from the border province of Carchi is used to illegally move cement from Ecuador into Colombia. Construction materials worth almost $35,000 were seized in the sector in 2012, according to figures from the army quoted by the newspaper.
Cement is an ingredient used during cocaine production, as highly alkaline substances such as cement or lime are added to pulverized coca leaves in order to stimulate the release of coca alkaloids, the active ingredient of cocaine.
Army commander Mauricio Silva said that construction materials were being increasingly used in cocaine processing. There is also incentive for drug producers in Colombia to source these materials from Ecuador. In Colombia, 50 kilos of cement costs between $10 and $12.70, whereas in Ecuador it costs around $8, according to an architect consulted by El Comerico.
Silva added there were no restrictions on cement sales in Ecuador, but that documents were required to move it into another country.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ecuador's porous northern frontier border with Colombia is a key point for criminal groups to move products between the two countries. Large amounts of drugs are smuggled from Colombia into Ecuador by groups like the Rastrojos, while arms, food, and medical supplies go in the other direction, much of them for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
There are thought to be dozens of crossing points between the Colombia-Ecuador frontier where smugglers can move their product. Last June the Ecuadorean government reported the existence of 26 illegal border crossings, many of them concentrated in Carchi and in Sucumbios, another northern province and FARC stronghold.
Ecuadorean authorities face some significant challenges in tracking cement exports to Colombia, as cement is just one of the many precursor materials for cocaine production that is readily available, legal, and thus almost impossible to regulate.