Military-grade weaponry, including caches of grenades and landmines, continue to be found in northern Ecuador, showing how Colombian armed groups continue to use the country as a strategic outpost.
The most recent finding involved 756 anti-personnel landmines found in Ecuador’s border province of Sucumbíos, according to an army press release on October 6.
Found in the municipality of Lago Agrio which directly abuts the Colombian border, the mines allegedly belonged to the ex-FARC mafia, a loosely connected network of groups formerly belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), who frequently set up camp in Ecuador.
They are only the latest such discovery. In July, Ecuadorian military forces found a camp believed to have been used by ex-FARC members in the northern province of Esmeraldas. It included mattresses, kitchens, and a notebook containing the group’s movements.
And in January, a separate camp was found in Esmeraldas, which contained a machine gun, six hand grenades, chargers, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
As a response, the Ecuadorian army increased its operations along the Colombian border in September.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ecuador’s criminal problems are intrinsically linked to Colombia’s armed groups for several reasons.
Firstly, for over a decade, Ecuador has been a safe area for Colombia’s guerrillas to operate in. In 2010 alone, Ecuador found at least 60 installations linked to the FARC, including camps and coca-processing labs. In 2008, Ecuador even suspended diplomatic ties with Colombia after the Colombian army bombed a FARC camp across the border.
Today, ex-FARC mafia groups which have taken over control of FARC territory in southern Colombia continue that trend. The Border Command (Commandos de la Frontera), the strongest FARC dissident group in Colombia’s southern state of Putumayo, has already had several camps dismantled in Ecuador.
Ecuador’s two major gangs, the Choneros and the Lobos, both rose to prominence by moving cocaine from the border to Ecuadorian ports, acting as a link in the chain between Colombian drug traffickers to Mexican cartels.
Ecuador’s ability to deal with these issues alone seems limited. Colombian guerrilla camps continue to be found and Ecuador has the third-highest amount of cocaine seizures in the world, behind Colombia and the United States.
A strong bet for Ecuador may be to fully support the "Total Peace" plan of Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro, who is offering negotiated peace settlements to over two dozen criminal groups, including the Border Command.