Police investigators in Ecuador, long a source of arms for Colombian guerrillas, say that the routes used by gun runners stretch across the country, with most weapons entering via the southern border with Peru.
According to an investigation by El Comercio, Ecuadorean police have identified the main routes used by arms traffickers in the country to smuggle guns to armed groups in Colombia. Although the country has been identified as a major source of weapons and explosives for guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), police say that these arms generally originate from farther south, in Peru.
As the map to the right illustrates, police believe most of these guns enter the country through the southern provinces of El Oro and La Loja. Hotspots on the southern border include the cantons (sub-provincial territories) of Huaquillas and Macara.
From there, weapons are smuggled in vehicles north to cities like Quevedo and El Empalme, where they are stored in safe houses. Traffickers then take them to the capital city of Quito, where they are sold to intermediaries working on behalf of guerrillas or drug traffickers. They are then shipped north, and cross into Colombia from northern border towns like Tulcan, Carchi and San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas.
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Ecuador has attempted to crack down on arms trafficking, seizing weapons in over 39 separate operations from January 2010 to August 2012, according to El Comercio. But as the recent arrest of a FARC gun runner outside of Quito shows, smuggling routes remains open. Arms traffickers in the country have developed techniques to operate undetected, prefering to move guns in small numbers and taking care to make sales through trusted middlemen.
One obstacle to cracking down on the illegal arms trade is the impressive profit associated with it. Ecuadorean police say that a FN FAL rifle, which could cost some $5,000 in Quito, can be bought for less than half of that ($2,000) on the southern border.
During 2012 the government of Ecuador has focused on securing its northern border with Colombia, sending 10,000 troops to the region in January and capturing a high-level FARC operative there in May. However evidence suggests that the porous southern border with Peru is just as important for the arms trade, where police themselves have admitted they are incapable of stopping the flow of guns alone.