HomeNewsEcuador: The New Corridor for South American Arms Trafficking
NEWS

Ecuador: The New Corridor for South American Arms Trafficking

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 4 OCT 2021 BY MARK WILSON EN

As Ecuador reels from its worst prison massacre, military intelligence has recently revealed a flow of arms from Chile and Peru into Ecuador along its southern border, highlighting the country's key role in emerging arms trafficking routes.

A recent string of drug seizures, driven in part by increased enforcement, confirms police suspicions that Ecuador is a focal point for arms trafficking in South America. Police discovered ten heavy-caliber rifles during an August drug seizure in Guayaquil.

The weapons moving through Ecuador are imported from Chile, which in turn receives them from the United States, Europe and Asia. Traffickers smuggle them into Chilean ports. The arms are disassembled and concealed in shipments. A spike in recent seizures of this kind included the discovery of 30 dismantled AM-15 rifles from the US.

Ecuador serves as a critical transit point for arms moving from Chile into Colombia, as evidenced by a series of arrests in the border regions of Nariño and Carchi.

The main buyers of heavy weaponry in Colombia are dissident groups of the now demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). In February, an Ecuadorian gang that sold arms to the FARC was dismantled, with authorities seizing 1,299 cartridges of firearms and 155 magazines for AK49, Mig and Ruger rifles.

SEE ALSO: Explosives and Weapons Heading to Ecuador - Colombia Border

But weapons also find their way in the hands of Ecuadorian gangs. Several seizures of heavy-caliber weapons have been found in prisons controlled by the Choneros, Lobos and Lagartos, who have carried out much of the record violence this year.

In response to the exploding criminal economy, there are growing attempts at transnational enforcement. Both Colombia and Ecuador's police are prioritizing enforcement in the border regions. The Peruvian, Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities are collaborating on Operation Frontera Armada to halt the movement of guns.

InSight Crime Analysis

The stream of weapons moving through Ecuador exacerbates an already worsening security situation as its increasingly sophisticated gangs receive powerful weaponry.

Since 2020, gang violence has skyrocketed in Ecuador. What began as a war between the country's two most significant gangs, the Choneros and the Lagartos has since spiraled into a multi-faceted conflict fought to control drug trafficking inside and outside prisons. An additional factor is the reported presence of Mexican groups. According to Ecuador's former chief of military intelligence, Mario Pazmiño, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG), who support different sides in the conflict to ensure their supply of cocaine, according to Ecuadorean authorities.

“The Mexican cartels of Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation play an important role in drug trafficking in Ecuador. It's not that they are set up on Ecuadorian soil, but instead operate through local gangs," he told the Associated Press.

The Sinaloa Cartel had supported the Choneros when it was the dominant drug trafficking group in Colombia, the Washington Post reported.

Authorities are ill-equipped to deal with such a rise in violence, and weapons entering the country are only fueling this further.

This has also led to incidents where well-armed squads of hitmen have carried out daytime raids.

SEE ALSO: Homicides Pile Up in Ecuador in Revenge for Key Drug Seizure

In other areas, a boom in illegal mining in the border provinces of Esmeraldas, Carchi, Sucumbíos and Imbabura is providing a key source of cash for gangs. The cross-border smuggling of fuel, drugs and people adds to this criminal gold rush.

Illegal mining has developed in part to replace the previously dominant criminal economy of supplying Colombia's FARC insurgency. Yet, with the return of arms trafficking this time to FARC dissident factions, Ecuador's gangs are expanding rapidly to take advantage of the many revenue streams available to them.

All this money and competition for control over border crossings and the drug trade will likely drive Ecuadorian demand for the very guns trafficked through the country and contribute to the nation's epidemic of violence, which has resulted in record-high homicide rates.

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

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 16 JUN 2011

U.S. officials said that illegal tunnels running under the border with Mexico are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated.

COLOMBIA / 19 JUN 2017

Authorities in Colombia dismantled a cocaine processing laboratory in the department of Putumayo along the border with Ecuador, a further…

ECUADOR / 29 OCT 2013

A top official from Ecuador has publically acknowledged the presence of transnational criminal groups from Colombia and Mexico, but insisted…

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…