Authorities in Ecuador have seized 10 tons of drugs during the first months of 2014, highlighting both major drug transit through the country and the growth of the domestic market, which authorities say accounts for over one sixth of total drug seizures.
Of the 10 ton total, 5.5 tons were seized in anti-narcotics operations during just the first week of March, with the majority accounted for by cocaine, reported El Comercio. These raids also resulted in the arrest of 10 people thought to head three organizations linked to transnational drug trafficking.
Police estimate that 1.5 tons -- 15 percent -- of the drugs seized this year were intended for sale in Ecuador, reported El Comercio.
The size of the country's microtrafficking trade was also indicated by the fact that 85 percent of 7,000 operations carried out by antinarcotics agents in 2013 targeted networks involved in local drug sales, particularly in the capital city, Quito, according to El Comercio.
InSight Crime Analysis
The growth of microtrafficking in Ecuador has occurred in tandem with the country's development as a major transit point for cocaine shipments trafficked from Colombia and Peru. The phenomenon follows a regional trend of rising domestic markets in countries used for drug transshipment, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Quito, has been particularly hard hit by the domestic trade, with a Colombian gang known as the Cordillera formerly controlling the market, and Ecuadorean family clans now increasingly involved.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Microtrafficking
While much of the transnational and local trade has been controlled by Colombian groups, Ecuador's status as a transit country has also made it an important meeting and negotiating point for criminals around the world, including the Chinese, Cubans, Italians, and Russians, leading the country to be labeled the "United Nations" of organized crime.
Transit has been facilitated in part by lax controls in Ecuador's ports -- the port of Guayaquil is a particularly popular departure point for drug shipments. To address this, the Ecuadorean government has announced the goal of tightening port security with the acquisition of new technology including x-ray equipment.
A massive growth in annual cocaine seizures between 2010 and 2013 (from 14.8 tons to 53 tons as of November 2013) could be taken as a sign of improved commitment to combating drug trafficking and better efficiency in interdiction. However, it could also simply represent an increased quantity of drugs flowing through the country.