The siphoning of guns in police custody to criminals and a naval officer accused of acting in a hit squad are but two of the latest examples of how corruption in Ecuador's security forces adds to the country's struggles against violence.
Pedro Chiriguay Fernández, a corporal in the Navy, was arrested May 26 near the southern port city of Guayaquil after the shooting of a functionary who worked in the nearby municipality of Durán. A police official in Durán said Chiriguay Fernández, alias "El Gordo," and two other men shot at the functionary in what appeared a coordinated robbery attempt, news outlet Ecuavisa reported.
Earlier this month, Ecuador’s National Police revealed that 150 pistols were stolen from a Guayaquil police station storage unit. The theft was discovered during a routine arms check that occurred in July 2021. Since then, nine stolen guns have been found in the hands of criminals.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo wrote in a Twitter post that the episode showed “the absence of controls and a systematic theft over a period of time without adequate supervision."
The past year has seen other cases of weapons smuggling involving Ecuador's security forces. In November 2021, police arrested three active members of the military who reportedly belonged to a criminal structure operating in the Santo Domingo de Los Tsáchilas province, on the Ecuador-Colombia border. The officers were alleged to have trafficked arms to dissident groups of Colombia's defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
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In August of last year, a soldier was arrested for allegedly providing a local criminal group with weapons. A month earlier, a man was detained in central Ecuador after he was found to be transporting stolen Army-issued grenades and mortars.
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Already driving unprecedented violence in Ecuador, the escalation of drug money in the Andean country appears to also be bringing the corruption of security forces and weapons trafficking to new levels.
Ecuador has seen thefts of this nature before. According to a report released by Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office in 2015, weapons stolen from official arsenals are one of the main sources of arms trafficked in Ecuador.
The recent gun thefts are only possible through corruption in the ranks of the country’s security forces and highlight the lack of mechanisms in place for securing firearms. Indeed in March, former Ecuador Defense Minister Luis Hernández told news outlet PRIMICIAS that elements of both the Army and the police could be involved in ammunition theft. InSight Crime reached out to Ecuador’s National Police and Army for comment but received no response.
In December 2021, the US Ambassador to Ecuador, Michael Fitzpatrick, expressed concern in an interview with PRIMICIAS about “narco-generals” and the “penetration of drug trafficking within Ecuador and its security forces.”
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The surge in drug trafficking in Ecuador has also contributed to violence being at an all-time high. In 2021, the country’s homicide rate increased faster than that of any other country in the region. This trend has continued into 2022.
Ecuador is also a regional arms trafficking corridor, and many weapons flow across the country’s porous border with Colombia to criminal groups there.
Ex-FARC Mafia factions, such as the Dagoberto Ramos, Carlos Patiño and Oliver Sinisterra columns, may be receiving arms from Ecuador, according to authorities. Ecuador’s public security forces have been directly linked to these activities in the past. In 2018, seven members of Ecuador’s Army were accused of selling ammunition, firearms and explosives to the ex-FARC Oliver Sinisterra Front.