Law enforcement officials in Ecuador rejected a recent report indicating that Mexican cartels have a presence there, in what is likely an attempt to preserve the country's image as a relatively safe nation, despite mounting evidence that the booming cocaine trade is fueling organized crime across the Andean region.
Ecuador National Police official Edwin Noguera rejected the idea that Mexican organized crime groups have an operational presence in the South American country in comments reported by El Universo on November 14.
"You cannot speak of Mexican cartels in Ecuador," Noguera said.
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The police official acknowledged that transnational drug trafficking groups have been identified as having a presence in the country in the past, but he implied that these groups do not engage in drug trafficking from Ecuador. Rather, he said, they come to Ecuador simply to launder money earned from illicit activities.
Noguera's comments come days after media accounts citing a report from Mexico's Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República - PGR) asserted that four Mexican cartels -- the Sinaloa Cartel, Zetas, Familia Michoacana and Gulf Cartel -- have a presence in Ecuador as well as Colombia, Peru, the United States, China and other countries.
InSight Crime Analysis
The decision by Ecuadorean anti-narcotics officials to reject the notion that Mexican cartels have a presence in the country is likely an attempt to preserve Ecuador's largely positive reputation when it comes to security. The Andean nation has for years boasted some of Latin America's lowest homicide rates.
However, there is strong evidence that Mexican crime groups are in fact engaged in drug trafficking activities in Ecuador, which has seen indications of an uptick in cocaine trafficking recently.
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While the drug trade through Ecuador has historically been controlled by Colombian organized crime groups, Mexican cartels have been noted as having a presence in the country since as far back as 2012. In 2013, Ecuador's vice-minister for internal security at the time acknowledged the presence of Mexican criminal groups in the country.
While conducting field research in Colombia's southwestern departments of Nariño and Putumayo, both of which share a border with Ecuador, InSight Crime found that much of the cocaine departing Colombia first stops in Ecuador before continuing on to Central America and eventually the United States. Given that Mexican cartels largely oversee the movement of that cocaine from South America through Central America and on to US markets, their presence in Ecuador would come as no surprise.