Ecuador's authorities say they are shifting their security focus to curbing neighborhood level drug peddling, raising questions about the priorities of a country that serves as a major international transshipment point.
At his swearing-in ceremony on September 21, Police General Commander Diego Mejia was told by Interior Minister Jose Serrano that he needs to "defeat microtrafficking."
In statements made at the same ceremony, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa spoke of anti-drug efforts that previously only focused on international trafficking, but the president noted that the situation has changed, with 85 per cent of anti-drug agents now working to combat microtrafficking.
General Mejia himself made no mention of microtrafficking during his speech.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Microtrafficking
Police efforts against large-scale, international drug trafficking have yielded drug seizures totaling 48.5 tons in the first 6 months of 2015, while busts against microtraffickers during that same time period yielded drug seizures totally 7.9 tons.
InSight Crime Analysis
On one level, the rationale for focusing so many resources on small-scale trafficking at the neighborhood level is understandable: it is often what causes the most violence, what wreaks havoc on families, and what costs the most in terms of health care.
But the challenges Ecuador is facing regarding large-scale, international drug trafficking are also immense. International law enforcement sources tell InSight Crime they've seen an explosion of international drug trafficking activity in the country, which now sees an estimated 250 tons of cocaine cross its borders each year.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador
The country is on pace to seize as much as 80 tons during 2015, and officials in Ecuador have publicly acknowledged the presence of international drug operations in the country, including the Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico and the Urabeños of Colombia.
By declaring an offensive against microtrafficking, the government is prioritizing efforts to take on the localized social costs of the drug trade. But the government still seems to be vacillating on whether to treat drug use as a health and social problem or as a criminal problem.
Early indications point towards a more heavy-handed, law and order approach. In early September, authorities announced a new scale for differentiating drug users from drug traffickers, decreasing the maximum amount an individual can possess before being charged for higher-level trafficking offenses.