Authorities in Ecuador have made the second four ton cocaine seizure in two weeks in Guayaquil, highlighting the importance of the port city to international drug trafficking and raising questions over which criminal groups now control the country's trafficking routes.
On August 27, authorities found almost 4.4 tons of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas destined for the Belgian port of Antwerp, reported EFE. Five Ecuadoreans were arrested as part of the operation.
The haul comes less than two weeks after another 4.4 ton load was seized in the same city, destined for the port of Algeciras in southern Spain. According to El Espectador, the shipment belonged to Colombian narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños.
It has also been less than a year since eight tons of cocaine were discovered by Belgian authorities in banana boxes originating from Guayaquil.
Ecuadorean authorities have seized more than 37 tons of cocaine so far this year, according to Europa Press.
InSight Crime Analysis
The seizure of almost nine tons of cocaine within two weeks in the port of Guayaquil highlights just how important Ecuador’s biggest city is as a drug dispatch point.
Previously, Colombian trafficking group the Rastrojos dominated the drug flow leaving Ecuador, and the August 20 capture of Rastrojos leader Jorge Dominguez, alias "Palustre," in the Ecuadorean port of Manta, 125 miles north of Guayaquil, suggests they still maintain a presence in the country.
However, following the loss of their central leadership, the Rastrojos appear to have entered into terminal decline, leaving the criminal networks they maintained up for grabs, which may be the case in Ecuador as well.
SEE ALSO: Diego Rastrojo Extradited from Colombia: The End of the Rastrojos?
Around the country, the Rastrojos' rivals the Urabeños have seized the opportunity to expand their reach, either by force, by co-opting networks, or by absorbing elements of the Rastrojos. While El Espectador's claim that the shipment in Ecuador belonged to the Urabeños is unverified, if true it would suggest they are looking to seize control of the Rastrojos' international operations as well.
Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, which in the past frequently purchased cocaine from the Rastrojos, is also known to have a presence in Ecuador, and could also be involved.