In Ecuador’s coastal town of Posorja, boats are being set on fire and people are being killed, as this fishing community - a key cocaine transit hub - becomes entangled in drug gang warfare.
In June alone, the town of 25,000 residents saw the night sky lit up by two torched boats, and a pair of fishermen shot at and robbed of their vessels. The government responded with a show of force, sending in 70 soldiers, 30 police, and naval helicopters. It was the second intervention in Posorja in less than a month, El Universo reported.
Killings also have skyrocketed. The district of Posorja has already surpassed last year’s homicide totals by more than 90 murders, according to El Universo, citing officials.
Fishermen told El Universo that while they have always been at risk of getting robbed, they increasingly fear the presence of sicarios (contract killers). They stated that six sicarios had been arrested in Posorja in the last few months.
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With more cocaine being moved out of Ecuador, Posorja now serves as a key exit point to the Pacific, making the community a prime target for the country’s drug gangs.
Wedged between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has become one of the global cocaine trade’s primary dispatch points to Europe and the United States. According to the US State Department, maritime trafficking accounts for 70 percent of illegal drug movements out of the country.
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Posorja occupies a strategic position on the Pacific, given its 120 kilometers from Guayaquil and its access to a deep seaport. Officials have attributed much of the recent violence to drug gangs battling for control of territory around the port, where they are charged with hiding cocaine in cargo leaving the country.
Go-fast boats also serve to move drugs out of Ecuador, whose fishermen often get caught up in the drug trade, as chronicled in a report by consulting group Parametria. In towns like Pasorja, a poor fisherman can earn between $10,000 and $30,000 for a single trip.
Fishing can also serve as a front for drug gangs. One of the boats that was torched in Posorja was called the “Popeye,” which happens to be the alias of a Choneros gang leader currently being pursued by gunmen after stealing 20 tons of cocaine.