Authorities have made a string of explosives and weapons seizures while patrolling the Colombia-Ecuador border region – a remote and lawless frontier that is home to a volatile mix of armed actors involved in a range of illicit activities.
According to local news, an ongoing investigation into illegal border crossings has led to seizures by Ecuadoran and Colombian authorities of explosives and weapons along the border between Ecuador's northern province of Carchi and Colombia's southern Nariño department.
Authorities say the explosive materials and weapons seized were destined for irregular armed groups in Colombia.
The most recent seizure occurred at the end of August, when a foreigner, whose nationality has not been revealed, was stopped in Carchi with 10 units of explosives, each with enough power to destroy a car. A military official said the material could have been used to make improvised explosive devices.
In another instance, authorities on the Nariño side of the border seized five explosive devices, two radios, a .38-caliber weapon and an artisanal mortar crossed over from Ecuador. According to intelligence services, these explosives were ready to be detonated, Ecuavisa reported.
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Earlier in August, two Venezuelan men were arrested in Otavalo while smuggling enough dynamite and explosive materials to cause damage within a 100-meter radius. The two Venezuelans were reportedly headed to the border city of Tulcán, in the Carchi province.
And on July 21, police detained a man who was transporting 119 grenades and eight mortars through the Santo Domingo de Los Tsáchilas province, located west of the country’s capital city, Quito. Insignias on the mortars labeled "lote 9067" indicated that the confiscated weaponry was stolen from the military. The Ecuadorian news outlet Expreso reported that the grenades and mortars seized were believed to be destined for the country’s northern border.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent seizures of explosives and weapons transiting and en route to Ecuador's Carchi province are likely a product of the continued spillover of Colombia’s armed conflict and organized crime into its southern neighbor.
Due to its porous state, the border area between Carchi and Nariño is particularly bedeviled by human smuggling, fuel contraband, drug trafficking and violence. In 2019, authorities reported around 120 illegal border crossings between Carchi and Nariño.
Meanwhile, the northwestern Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas province, where the mortars were confiscated in July, is a known storage point used by criminal actors to smuggle drugs, contraband and migrants to both the Carchi and Esmeraldas border provinces.
Authorities say dissident factions of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), namely the Dagoberto Ramos, Carlos Patiño and Oliver Sinisterra columns, are funneling arms into Colombia via Carchi. Rearmed and criminalized, these dissident groups -- dubbed the ex-FARC mafia – are active on both sides of the border, trafficking cocaine into Ecuador and weapons and explosives into Colombia.
While it remains unclear the intended use of the seized explosives, the bomb-making materials could have been used for attacks against people and infrastructure.
The explosives could have also been used for illegal gold mining purposes. The Ecuadorian border provinces of Esmeraldas, Carchi and Sucumbíos have all experienced an increase in illegal mining. Miners use explosives to blast rock and free up gold-bearing material
When the FARC demobilized in 2016, a power vacuum was left in the Ecuador-Colombia border region. As guerrilla dissident factions and other criminal actors competed to fill the void, violence surged.
A defining act of brutality occurred there when three Ecuadorean reporters were kidnapped and later killed by a dissident FARC cell in March 2018.
The current wave of violence along the border, between the cities of Ipiales (Colombia) and Tulcán (Ecuador), has been attributed to campaigns by FARC dissident groups and drug mafias to control the region's many informal border crossings.
Indeed, the movement of drugs through these frontiers fuels not only Ecuador's role as a cocaine superhighway to the US and Europe but also Colombian armed groups in the region.