HomeNewsBriefEcuador Releases Drug 'Mules' in Progressive Policy Move
BRIEF

Ecuador Releases Drug 'Mules' in Progressive Policy Move

DRUG POLICY / 10 OCT 2014 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

Ecuador has released some 500 jailed drug "mules" as part of a new policy that sees them as victims, not just criminals, a progressive shift away from many international strictures that target the lowest rungs in the trafficking chain, in a move that will free up space in the country's overcrowded prisons.

Under the country's new criminal law, which was approved in January and went into effect on August 10, a person caught with under 50 grams of drugs can receive up to six months in prison, and a person smuggling up to two kilos may receive up to three years. Only those moving more than five kilos will receive a heftier sentence of as many as 13 years in prison, reported GlobalPost

This is a marked difference from previous legislation that placed a blanket penalty on anyone moving up to 20 kilos, no matter how small the amount: eight to 12 years in prison.

Jorge Paladines, the national coordinator of Ecuador's Public Defender's Office, told GlobalPost there is now "a policy of seeing mules as victims of the drug trade." 

Another 2,000 drug couriers are expected to be released in addition to the 500 whose sentences have already been cut short.

In order to receive a sentence reduction under the new policy, prisoners must attend a court hearing. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Ecuador's new policy stands in sharp contrast to the traditional heavy-handed treatment of low-level drug offenders seen in the US-led "war on drugs," and could represent a major step toward changing such perceptions. A shift in policy could also help address prison overcrowding, a problem throughout the region. Ecuador's prison population more than doubled between 2009 and 2013, an increase that coincided with rising cocaine seizures as the country has solidified as a drug transit point -- likely fueling a growth in drug "mules."

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

These couriers -- who may swallow cocaine capsules, attach the drug to their bodies or attempt to carry it in luggage -- engage in one of the more high-risk jobs in the drug trade. They are generally socially and economically vulnerable populations, as noted by GlobalPost senior correspondent Simeon Tegel in a conversation with Huff Post Live. Many are women: the number of Latin American women in prison rose dramatically between 2006 and 2011, with more than two thirds jailed on drug charges.

Additionally, some people employed as mules by drug trafficking groups do not act of their own volition.

It does seem the policy tides are beginning to turn in recognition of these issues. Even the United States has begun moving towards a treatment-based regime for drug users -- who form part of the same gamut of low-level offenders as mules -- and officials have called for focusing on the violent, major traffickers that impact public safety. However, progressive rhetoric regarding non-violent drug offenses is not always matched by legislation. 

 
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

CARIBBEAN / 13 JUN 2014

The government in Jamaica has taken the first concrete steps towards decriminalizing marijuana use by approving changes to…

DRUG POLICY / 19 JUL 2012

At an international meeting on drug policy, hosted in Peru, President Ollanta Humala spoke of the need for broader strategies…

COLOMBIA / 25 AUG 2011

Colombia's Supreme Court ruled against harsh punishments for small-time drug offenders, in a move towards easing up Colombia's zero-tolerance drug…

About InSight Crime

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.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…