Ecuador found a coca plantation miles away from the Colombia border where the crop is usually concentrated, suggesting that production levels may be increasing inside the country.
An army patrol from the 19th Jungle Brigade discovered a total of four hectares of coca in Cuyabeno National Park in northern Ecuador, reports El Comercio. The coca was apparently planted in small plots in various locations. In one sector, the patrol unit also found weapons and·t-shirts bearing the colors of the Ecuadoran army.
Small hectares of coca are usually found close to Colombian border, not deep inside Ecuadorian territory. Brigade commander Colonel Fausto Berrazueta told El Comerico that the 19th Jungle Brigade is responsible for monitoring a huge amount of ground, and thus he could not rule out the possibility that other coca plantations exist. He added that the army will begin searching for coca base laboratories in the area.
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Despite terrain and climatic conditions that make the country an ideal location for coca, Ecuador has so far avoided the kind of production levels seen in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. Instead, Ecuador is primarily a transit point for narcotics. In 2009, the Andean nation seized the second-highest amount of cocaine in South America, according to the UN's 2011 World Drug Report.
However, this recent find in Cuyabeno, combined with last year's discovery of a 12-acre poppy field, suggest that the production of these illicit crops may be on the rise. If this is indeed the case, the country's authorities may be ill-equipped to deal with it, as Berrazeuta's comments implied.
The recent US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report paints a bleak picture of Ecuador's institutional capacity to deal with organized crime, highlighting the country's porous borders, corruption, and an under-resourced military and police force. Though President Rafael Correra has deployed some 10,000 extra personnel to the northern border in an effort to tackle security concerns, the security forces reportedly fear that so far, such measures have been insufficient. If not addressed soon, they allegedly say, the country could be overwhelmed by drug trafficking and organized crime.