HomeNewsBriefFor Ecuador’s Fishermen, 'Vueltas' Rarely End in a Return
BRIEF

For Ecuador’s Fishermen, 'Vueltas' Rarely End in a Return

COCAINE / 20 MAR 2020 BY ANASTASIA AUSTIN EN

A new report sheds light on US authorities' controversial practice of detaining Ecuadorian fishermen acting as drug mules in international waters and holding them captive on off-shore "prison ships," often without the option to be tried at home.

The report by Ecuadorian consulting firm, Parametría, takes an in-depth look at how Coast Guard ships, ill-equipped to handle prisoners, detain Ecuadorian fishermen in international waters. It states that these men allegedly endure months of incommunicado extrajudicial detention, oftentimes shackled and underfed.

According to US officials interviewed by the New York Times in 2017, these conditions do not violate federal rules of criminal procedure as the men are not formally under arrest while being detained by the Coast Guard. Parametría estimates that 700 Ecuadorian fishermen are being held in the US.

Eventually, the men are charged as drug traffickers, usually in courts in Florida, with 96 percent of them pleading guilty in order to reduce a potential 20-year prison sentence to around 10.

SEE ALSO: Ecuador Fishermen Jailed Abroad Illustrative of ‘Drug War’ 

And while Ecuador's prison system faces its share of challenges, the report found that 80 percent of the fishermen request repatriation-transfers to serve their sentences in prisons at home, where they can see their families beyond a time-limited call every few weeks. Parametría reports that 40 percent are stuck in ‘pending approval’ limbo, while 18 percent are denied and must wait to reapply. The men do not know if their application is held up by the US or Ecuador - their requests for information are usually met with silence by both countries.

In October 2019, Filter Magazine has reported on the conditions of desperate poverty, exacerbated by environmental disaster and insecurity, that drive these men to transport Colombian cocaine north on its route to the US. The trips are known as vueltas, meaning “return trip,” and can bring in $10-20,000 for the fishermen.

InSight Crime Analysis

At a time when the United States is deporting record numbers of Latin American migrants,  it is ironic that low-level Ecuadorian drug mules, fighting to serve their sentences at home, are being kept in the US. It begs the question: who is this policy for?

In testimony before the House Armed Service Committee in May 2019, Admiral Craig Faller praised the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S), which patrols the Eastern Pacific, for its “return on investment” despite adding it only interdicts only 6 percent of detected drug flows through the Pacific.

In 2018 Ecuador signed a memorandum of understanding with the JIATF-S, which formalized an operational arrangement in place since 2006, allowing the Coast Guard to “board, and search Ecuadorian vessels reasonably suspected of drug smuggling.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

JIATF-S has said these extreme measures are justified because detainees provide vital intelligence. Yet these Ecuadorian fishermen are acting at the lowest ranks of the narco-hierarchy and there is little evidence to suggest stopping them causes any real disruption to drug flows or drug trafficking networks.

The ironic backdrop to this battle is that between 2009-2017, as the policies outlined above took shape, the U.S. deported almost 3.3 million migrants, many of whom have committed no crime. Many of these fishermen may well be wishing for the same treatment.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 7 FEB 2020

Two new books aim to reorient understanding of the foundations of drug policy: the first a nuanced exploration of the…

FEATURED / 27 APR 2021

Long considered a backwater, low-class drug, methamphetamine availability and use has exploded in the United States in the last few…

ECUADOR / 2 MAR 2017

A string of multi-ton cocaine seizures in Ecuador and the Caribbean suggest massive drug shipments have made a comeback in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.