HomeNewsBriefHuge Ecuador Cocaine Seizures Signal Growing Role in Drug Trade
BRIEF

Huge Ecuador Cocaine Seizures Signal Growing Role in Drug Trade

COCAINE / 10 MAY 2017 BY TRISTAN CLAVEL EN

Ecuador seized over three metric tons of cocaine in less than a week, a large haul that signals the country's growing role in the transnational drug trade as well as the possibility that increasing drug flows through the country could lead to security challenges.

A massive 3.2 metric tons of cocaine were seized in just four days in Ecuador during several police operations between May 4 and May 7, reported El Universo on May 8.*

The drugs were seized both at sea and on land along the country's Pacific coast. The shipments were reportedly destined for the United States and Europe.

One of the metric tons was seized in the Manabí coastal province, and another metric ton in the Esmeraldas province, also along the coast.

Interestingly, both these provinces were transit points for trafficking routes used by Washington Prado Álava, alias "Gerard" or "Gerald," to smuggle cocaine from Tumaco in Colombia to Ecuador's Pacific coast.

Prado, a criminal figure virtually unknown to the public until his recent capture in Colombia in April, was dubbed the "Pablo Escobar" of Ecuador after authorities stated that his nameless organization moved an astounding 250 metric tons of Colombian cocaine in a span of two years.

As InSight Crime previously reported, the armed branch of Prado's organization had secured Esmeraldas, located close to the border with Colombia, to ensure the transit of cocaine from the neighboring country's Nariño department to Ecuador's Manabí and Guayas provinces, from where the maritime shipments were launched.

InSight Crime Analysis

Ecuador has long been a transshipment nation. It is bordered by two of the world's main coca-producing countries, Colombia and Peru. As far back as the 1970s, the real Pablo Escobar reportedly moved raw Peruvian coca across Ecuador to Colombia where the plant would be processed into cocaine.

However, there have been recurrent signs in recent years of an increase in Ecuador's role in the drug trade, which may eventually have adverse consequences for security in a nation considered one of the safest in the region.

Discoveries of multi-ton shipments of cocaine, at times breaking decades-old records, now appear common in Ecuador. Meanwhile, total seizures have increased year on year. In 2016, the country intercepted 110 metric tons of drugs, according to El Comercio. From this figure, 61 metric tons were cocaine seized during the first 11 months of the year, a quantity that surpassed the total of 59 metric tons of cocaine seized in 2015, according to the US State Department's 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ecuador

Several factors could explain this trend, including the boom in neighboring Colombia's coca production, as well as an estimated increase in production in Peru.

Additionally, within the context of Colombia's peace process and the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), criminal groups have been taking control of crop-growing territories abandoned by the guerrillas. These areas have included the coca cultivation hot spot Tumaco in Nariño department. It is therefore little surprise that reports describing Prado's massive drug trafficking operations point to Tumaco as one of the points of origin of the cocaine.

Beyond Ecuador's growing transshipment role in the international drug chain, the rising seizures could also suggest a certain efficiency on behalf of Ecuadorean authorities. Between January and July 2016, the country carried out 4,800 operations against drug trafficking and dismantled 29 criminal groups, according to Ecuador's interior ministry.

At a rate of six homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Ecuador currently enjoys one of lowest murder rates of any country in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the increase in drug activity could eventually constitute a challenge to the country's security. Prado, for instance, is accused of having ordered hits against several Ecuadorean officials in order to preserve his operations. 

Moreover, the movement of drugs through the country may feed the Ecuador's local consumption market, potentially generating conflict between trafficking groups for market control. In addition, reports have already pointed to corruption within certain state institutions as a direct consequence of drug smuggling activities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

While Ecuador's criminal landscape has traditionally been forged by foreign criminal organizations -- in particular Colombian, and more recently Mexican groups -- the unveiling of Prado's network also indicates that the vast criminal profits to be made in the country can fuel the emergence of powerful homegrown drug trafficking organizations.

* Shortly after this article was published, on May 11 the Ecuadoran police announced the seizure of more than 5 tons of cocaine apparently destined for Panama and Spain. News outlets described the seizure as the largest in the country's history.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ECUADOR / 2 MAR 2017

A string of multi-ton cocaine seizures in Ecuador and the Caribbean suggest massive drug shipments have made a comeback in…

CHILE / 16 OCT 2017

In Ecuador and Chile, two of Latin America's most trusted police institutions have been hit by recent corruption scandals,…

CRIMINAL MIGRATION / 8 NOV 2013

Colombia's principal criminal organization, the Urabeños, have marked their arrival in Ecuador with a series of killings, kidnappings and extortion…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…