Authorities in Ecuador arrested 11 suspected drug traffickers -- including an active lieutenant colonel -- and seized nearly two tons of cocaine destined for Europe, in the latest indication of this country's heightened role in the transnational drug trade.
On April 8, Ecuadorian authorities confiscated the multi-ton cocaine shipment in the port city of Manta, while the lieutenant colonel was arrested in the country's capital, Quito, reported El Universo. The drug bust was carried out in Manta, Quito, and Ecuador's biggest city, Guayaquil. It resulted in the arrest of nine Ecuadorians as well as two Colombians, according to El Universo.
The lieutenant colonel, identified as M. Escobar, was the drug trafficking organization's third-in-command, and oversaw the logistics of drug shipments to Europe, reported La Hora. Ecuador's Interior Minister, Jose Serrano, announced Escobar's arrest via Twitter on April 8.
3/3 entre detenidos lastimosamente se encuentra un Teniente Coronel en servicio activo de la Policía Nacional, gran trabajo UIAN, GEMA
— José Serrano Salgado (@ppsesa) April 8, 2015
Serrano also said Escobar's capture was the culmination of a three-year investigation into the lieutenant colonel, according to El Universo.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent multi-ton seizure of cocaine -- reportedly destined for Holland -- reflects the importance of Ecuador's Pacific coast as a launching point for drug shipments to Europe. In August 2013, authorities in Guayaquil seized almost nine tons of cocaine bound for Spain and Belgium in the span of just two weeks. These Pacific drug routes are generally considered to be run by Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations, but shifts in the criminal landscape of these countries may be changing that dynamic.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
Manta was once a key port city for Colombia's now-defunct Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC) to send international cocaine shipments. A NDVC successor group, the Rastrojos, also at one point dominated Ecuador's drug routes, but they have lost power in recent years following the capture of several top leaders. This ongoing fragmentation of Colombian and Mexican organized crime may be providing space for Ecuadorian groups -- such as the one involved in the recent cocaine bust -- to take on a more prominent role in transnational drug trafficking. However, there is still little evidence of domestic drug trafficking groups in Ecuador operating internationally.
The lieutenant colonel's high rank in the criminal organization suggests narco links to security forces remains a serious issue in Ecuador, and could be contributing to the country's seemingly growing importance to the transnational drug trade. His capture comes just seven months after 11 police officers were arrested for alleged ties to drug trafficking groups in October 2014.