Ecuador has dispatched a military patrol to combat drug trafficking in the western coastal province of Manabi, a strategy likely linked both to the province's strategic importance to drug trafficking and a wider move to militarize security in the country.
Marcelo Bastidas, the head of the unit moved to the province, said 100 soldiers operating in 10 specialized vehicles would remain in the area for two months, occupying the five towns of El Carmen, Pedernales, Jama, Sucre and San Vicente, reported El Universo. The Ministry of Defense said the group will work to uncover clandestine airstrips, control the flow of arms through the area and carry out joint intelligence work with the police, reported El Comercio.
According to local military chief Angel Orellana, the convoy will also build checkpoints to create a permanent military presence in the region.
Manabi officials reported that 1.6 tons of drugs and 22 firearms have been seized in the region so far this year and 274 people have been arrested.
InSight Crime Analysis
The militarization of Manabi occurs as Ecuador continues to gain prominence as a drug transit hub. In December 2012, a former military chief claimed the number of maritime trafficking routes in Ecuador had increased 90 percent in seven years, attributing this partly to the 2009 closure of a US military base in Manabi.
While most of Ecuador's drug traffic runs through the northern coastal province of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia, and the port city of Guayaquil, Manabi has also been the site of various finds. Last year, a plane crashed in Manabi with $1.4 million on board, the pilots of which allegedly worked for Mexican cartels, and three Mexicans and a go-fast boat were caught off the coast of San Vicente. It has also been the base of operations for local gang "Los Choneros" -- described by the government as "the worst organized crime gang of the past 20 years."
The move also takes place in the context of a wider plan to increase the use of the military in fighting crime in Ecuador, a strategy that could be related to the corrupt reputation of the police. However, the militarization of security is more commonly seen in countries with higher levels of drug-related violence than Ecuador, raising the possibility that the move is partly motivated by President Rafael Correa's rocky relationship with the police after a 2010 revolt, characterized by Correa as an attempted coup.