A lack of oversight in Ecuador's ports on the part of both private companies and the government has left maritime routes open for drug traffickers, contributing to the country's growth as a transshipment point for overseas trafficking.
According to experts, Ecuador's ports are the country's main weak point in terms of combating drug trafficking, reported El Comercio. More than 712,000 containers leave Ecuador's ports destined for other countries annually, but very few of them pass through basic inspections before leaving the country.
One contributor to the problem is insufficient measures taken by export companies themselves, said Diego Castillo, executive director of the Pichincha chapter of the Business Alliance for Secure Commerce. According to Castillo, less than 10 percent of the 3,000 companies exporting products from Ecuador have implemented security measures such as cargo inspections.
The government has also shown a limited ability to monitor outgoing cargo. A joint European Union and Ameripol report released in September identified the ports of Guayaquil, Manta (Manabi province) and Puerto Bolivar (El Oro) as especially vulnerable to drug trafficking, reported El Universal. According to the national anti-drug office, only 4.5 percent of containers leaving Ecuador's ports receive a physical inspection.
This year, authorities have seized more than 20 tons of drugs in Guayaquil alone, accounting for about 38 percent of the 53 tons seized countrywide so far in 2013.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ecuador's ports have become a hotspot for cocaine seizures, with more than 12 tons seized within two months during the second half of 2013. Traffickers appear to be increasingly using Ecuador as a maritime transshipment point, exporting large quantities of drugs to Brazil, Chile and Peru, as well as Europe.
See Also: Coverage of Ecuador
The drug trade in Ecuador is largely fueled by transnational organizations, including Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, as well as Colombian groups. Many of the recently seized shipments have been attributed to these groups, and the Urabeños appear to be expanding their influence in the country. At the same time, micro-trafficking networks appear to be increasingly active in major cities, suggesting a potential uptick in domestic demand.
Weak port security is an issue in other Latin American drug transit hubs such as Peru and Argentina. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's Container Control Programme, less than 2 percent of the 500 million containers shipped around the world each year are inspected.