An investigation into several soldiers in Ecuador who are accused of supplying weapons to an ex-FARC mafia network operating in a key border region suggests that groups of former FARC fighters are growing stronger and building the capacity to corrupt military personnel.
On October 17, authorities in Ecuador arrested seven soldiers and seven civilians for their alleged role in trafficking weapons to the Oliver Sinisterra Front (Frente Oliver Sinisterra), an ex-FARC mafia group -- networks of dissident fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) -- led by Ecuadorean national Walter Patricio Arizala Vernaza, alias “Guacho,” El Comercio reported.
The weapons and ammunition allegedly trafficked to Guacho and his group were believed to be registered at a military stockpile in the capital Quito before the inventory was altered by a member of the network. The weapons were then moved to the town of Borbón in the coastal Esmeraldas province near the border with Colombia through parcels, interprovincial busses and private vehicles in order to avoid weapons checkpoints, according to a separate report from El Comercio.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking
Authorities are searching military facilities in Guayas, Esmeraldas, Loja, Santo Domingo and Pichincha provinces where they say weapons and ammunition slated to be trafficked were hidden among provisions of toilet paper and rice, according to El Comercio.
Just last week on October 9, authorities intercepted a taxi in the town of Quinindé in Esmeraldas that was reportedly trafficking weapons and ammunition hidden in sacks of rice. Investigators believe that the arms trafficking network has been operating since at least 2016.
Ecuador’s army said in an October 17 press release that the institution “deeply regrets” that some of its members may have been involved in trafficking firearms and ammunition to a criminal group, and that it will cooperate with authorities in their investigation.
InSight Crime Analysis
Colombia’s ex-FARC mafia networks are quickly emerging as a dominant player in the country’s criminal world, and the recent arms trafficking investigation implicating members of Ecuador’s army suggests that authorities may be further from taking down Guacho and his network than they have led on.
Guacho’s ex-FARC mafia network has been establishing a strong presence in Ecuador's border region with Colombia. In January 2018, Guacho was allegedly responsible for a car bomb near the Colombia-Ecuador border in an effort to take control of this strategic area for drug trafficking activities along the Pacific coast. Guacho controls key drug trafficking routes in northern Ecuador and Colombia's southwest Nariño department, and is “at the service of [Mexico’s] Sinaloa Cartel,” Colombia Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez said in March of this year.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ex-FARC Mafia
However, recent evidence suggested authorities were closing in on Guacho and his network. In June of this year, authorities in Ecuador identified several key players in his network shortly after his brother and his alleged second-in-command were captured. But the brazenness of Guacho's past violent acts and his links to many multi-ton cocaine shipments leaving Ecuador recently suggests that he may have more freedom to operate there.
Corrupting security forces is almost essential for criminal groups such as Guacho’s to survive and continue operating. These connections may explain why he has been able to avoid capture, especially after he was wounded last month during a Colombian military operation.