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

BOLIVIA / 5 FEB 2021

The seizure of a cocaine-laced package, bound for Thailand, at an airport in Bolivia, shines light on the little-known drug…

COCAINE / 18 JAN 2022

Authorities in Colombia have netted the country's "king" of drug submarines – a man whose services, prosecutors allege, have been employed…

AUC / 27 OCT 2021

New documents in the case against accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo, alias “Memo Fantasma,” reveal that former top…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…