In 2017, the public force seized 83.7 tons of drugs from the criminal networks, equivalent to $ 2.7 billion. The coastal profile is highly coveted by these organizations, as the waterway is increasingly used to transport alkaloids to Central and North American countries.
The detainees counted this year 594. To the international drug trafficking the Ecuadorian Police frustrated in 2017 the shipment of 83.7 tons of drugs: 71 went to the world market and 12 to the local micro-trafficking. All this seizure, translated into money, taking as reference the average price in the global black market (see graph), meant to the narcos a great loss. “We would be talking about at least $ 2,700 million,” Interior Minister César Navas told the Public Media. The volume of seized drug, however, is lower compared to 2016, when the police seized 110 tons.
The way in which organizations operate are several. The alkaloid enters Ecuador from Colombia and Peru, countries where the laboratories of maceration, processing, refining and crystallization of cocaine are, and from here send it abroad.
For the National Anti-narcotics Director, Pablo Aguirre, criminal groups seek routes that facilitate their operations: roads and now with greater strength near the beaches. In this regard, geography is one of the drawbacks of the Ecuadorian territory, as it is next to the two centers considered to be the largest producers of coca leaf and cocaine: Colombia and Peru. César Navas, Interior Minister, said that drug traffickers seek to enter the country across borders. “On the Coast (especially) by Esmeraldas, in the area of Tumaco; in the mountains by the province of Carchi; and in the East by the province of Sucumbíos, where the San Miguel River passes.”
According to the investigations, these groups entering the northern border have the logistical collaboration of Ecuadorian vessels to transport not only drugs but also fuel supplies. Aguirre explained that boats are used through strategic points in the coastal profile.
For this, the narcos have the help of structures that mix with citizens of other countries, including Colombians and Mexicans. According to figures from the National Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DNA), in the last 5 years, 2,955 people, between Ecuadorians and foreigners, have been detained for their involvement in local and international drug trafficking. Only in 2017, there are 594 arrested. One of the routes used by these mafias is to skirt the Galapagos Islands to evade the controls of the National Navy. Then they take an international route and advance to Central America and North America.
The provinces most wanted to move the alkaloids
Some 22 organizations linked to drug trafficking were dismantled in 2017 in Ecuador. The provinces where the greatest seizure occurred were those located in the coastal profile. In the last 5 years, according to National Anti-Narcotics Directorate statistics, more than 392 tons of drugs were seized nationwide. Of them, only 165 were confiscated in Guayaquil; in Esmeraldas 44; Manabí 25; The Rivers 15; The Gold 14; St. Helena 13; Galápagos and Guayas 10 tons, and the rest in other areas of the country.
Navas said that they have detected that in the province of Los Ríos they would operate criminal organizations that keep (‘encaletan’) the drug and then take it out through the different Ecuadorian ports. Based on intelligence work, the National Narcotics Directorate detected that the confiscated alkaloids were directed to several countries: Mexico was the main destination (in recent years about 31 tons went to that country). In second place is Belgium, especially Port Antwerp, where they were destined 24 tons and 669 kilos of alkaloids. It is followed by Central America, especially Guatemala, with 71 tons, because this area is also considered as the main drug trafficking route. The ‘human couriers’ or ‘drug trafficking mules’ are another way to traffic abroad. As a result, in the last 5 years, 875 foreigners were detained at airports mainly in Quito and Guayaquil, 205 of them Colombians and 56 Mexicans.
The price of drugs for sale or their losses vary
The value of alkaloids depends on where they are apprehended. For example, losses for international drug trafficking are not as significant if they occur in the country of production (Colombia or Peru), an aspect that varies significantly if you take into account what they stopped selling on the black market in the United States or Europe.
The value of these substances is normally multiplied in the consumer markets, explained the Anti-Drug Director. “The drug has its supply and demand market in the United States, Mexico and Central America, while in Europe it has another price,” he confirmed. According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the price of the drug varies depending on the country (until 2017 the price does not differ much): cocaine is the one with the highest demand, followed by heroin, marijuana and ecstasy. If the drug confiscated in Ecuador is calculated in the 2013-2017 period, which was 392 tons, the drug traffic lost millions of dollars. For example, if the drug seized in these years managed to reach the United States, where the price of kilo of cocaine hydrochloride is $ 34,000, of heroin $ 90,000 and of marijuana $ 19,500, the loss for those 392 tons it was around $ 13,328 million.
However, if that same amount of drug had reached Australia it would cost about $ 95,710 million, that is, the price increases seven times. According to the Ecuadorian authorities, the drug traffickers are counting on the fact that they are going to have huge profits, but they are hit hard thanks to the work of the National Police and the exchange of information with their counterparts in Colombia, Peru and Central America.
The objective is to stop the entry of drugs through the borders
According to the National Anti-narcotics Director, Pablo Aguirre, the priority is not only to locate and confiscate through the operations, but to prevent the entry into the country of illicit substances. The aim is to achieve the objective through better control in ports, airports and border points. “We are interested in the structures, so that the chain of drug trafficking is broken, which is the people who manage this type of activity in the country,” he said. Thanks to this, in 2017 there were 8,684 actions against internal trafficking with a balance of 1,085 detainees, as well as 564 cases of international traffic that left 602 prisoners. In addition, the operatives have so far allowed to seize 20 tons of cash from illicit acts and businesses, as well as 208 weapons.
The special units and controls have been strengthened
The National Antinarcotics Directorate of the Police and the Ministry of the Interior highlighted that specialized units have been strengthened in the country to combat drug trafficking and micro-trafficking. In addition, the Asset Laundering Unit was created, which works in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service (SRI) and the State Attorney General’s Office. This has allowed us to disrupt narco-criminal structures and not only stop the people who are used by the gangs. According to the police chiefs, in addition, the operations against drug trafficking have had the cooperation of countries such as the United States, Peru and Colombia, as well as the international agencies of the DEA, Europol, Ameripol and Interpol.
Local criminal groups put the logistics
Nine Mexican cartels are the owners of drug trafficking routes in the world, 4 of which would be infiltrated or associated with criminal gangs in Ecuador. This was revealed on November 13, the 2017 report of the Attorney General of Mexico and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Ecuador would be one of the 51 countries of the 5 continents in which the Sinaloa cartels, led by ‘Chapo’ Guzmán (imprisoned in the US since January); The Zetas, the Michoacana Family; and the Gulf operate, transport and market cocaine, heroin, marijuana, among others. However, according to the Interior Minister, Cesar Navas, these cartels would not be in the country but “there have been certain elements that seek logistical support (in local criminal bands) to be able to take the drugs to Central and North America.”
This criterion is shared by the Anti-narcotics Director of the National Police, Pablo Aguirre, who pointed out that the presence of said Mexican narcorredes is not proven or identified. Navas and Aguirre do not rule out the existence of Mexican groups that try to carry out drug trafficking operations through a logistics corridor, in this case through Ecuador. The information from the Attorney General of Mexico detailed the most influential drug cartels and said that some of them have a presence in Ecuador.
It is emphasized that the international traffic of alkaloids built by ‘Chapo’ Guzmán in the Sinaloa Cartel (founded between 1989 and 1990), which is the most powerful among its Mexican rivals, is present in 43 states.
The second with greater scope is -according to said report- Los Zetas, with a presence in 20 countries. This organization is considered as the most bloodthirsty: it was founded and made up of former members of the special military forces.
According to Ecuadorian authorities, the territory has not detected a level of violence with which these cartels operate, such as the hired killers linked to drug trafficking through massacres. The La Familia Michoacana cartel has influence in 8 countries, while the Gulf cartel, which at the time was one of the strongest, currently operates in 6 countries, including Ecuador. For Navas, the major structures of these cartels are in drug-producing countries and from where they are distributed. There is even evidence of a struggle for territories. Daniel Ponton, security expert, said that these types of cartels have a high level of introduction. He considered that Mexico has become a co-opted state, where corruption and drug trafficking are associated with political power, a fact that does not happen in Ecuador.
Logos identify the origin of the drug
Ecuador is considered a place of transit, a drug trafficking route. That is why the seizure of drugs went from 50 tons in 2013 to 71 in 2017, due, in part, to the narco-criminal organizations in Colombia have increased their coca leaf crops by 60% in areas of the border with Ecuador . Also because the Mexican cartels have become big drug producers. But how to know the place of origin of the alkaloid or to whom it belongs? At the time of transporting the drug, each package or bricks (as they are known in the slang of the traffickers) of the shipments of cocaine, wears a badge that allows us to identify which organization it belongs to.
They are stamps or logos that represent the ‘fingerprint’ of each narco-critical organization. This logo indicates the manufacturer’s guarantee of the substance, its purity. It is used so that the drug cannot be modified or changed on the way to its final destination. It is the first identification symbol. The second one is placed by the supplier as an identification mark, which allows demonstrating who supplies the drug. According to the Anti-Narcotics Directorate of the National Police, there are a number of logos used by these organizations, numbers, combinations of letters and symbols, cartoon images, car marks, Roman numerals, soccer shields, etc.
These logos allow to identify the laboratories where the drug was processed. However, not all packages are marked, in Ecuador, in most cases in which cocaine hydrochloride has been seized, they have had these stamps. The links with criminal organizations are made through intelligence work and exchange of information. For example, simultaneous operations are carried out jointly with the police of Peru, Colombia, Chile and Central America. As a product of international cooperation, certain connections have been discovered between the cocaine producing organizations, the cartels and the countries where they are produced. Thanks to this, the Latin American and Caribbean Police Intelligence Community (Clacip) has identified a catalog of approximately 500 logos used by organizations linked to the trafficking of narcotic substances. Currently in Ecuador there is an established project to share information especially with Colombia, a country that has a large database that identifies the organizations that handle the refining, processing and crystallization laboratories of the drug. Complementary investigations are what have allowed the police, including Ecuador, to establish who the producers are. (I)