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QUITO, Ecuador – Mexico’s ruthless Sinaloa cartel has established a presence in Ecuador, as it’s using the country to import narcotics into Central America, where the drugs often are trafficked north into the United States.
Ecuadoran officials have confiscated four planes they suspect were used by the Sinaloa cartel, which is led by Mexico’s most wanted fugitive, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, between May 2012 and January 28, according to Ecuadoran Interior Minister José Serrano.
Ecuadoran officials seized a total of 42.5 metric tons of narcotics – worth US$1.205 billion – arrested 4,736 on drug-related charges and destroyed 15 narcotics laboratories in the coastal provinces of Manabí, Los Ríos, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas and Santa Elena. In 2011, authorities seized 26.09 metric tons of narcotics, arrested 4,258 on drug-related charges and dismantled 10 drug laboratories, according to the National Counter-Narcotics Office.
A total of 110 metric tons are trafficked through Ecuador – by air or sea – en route to North America or Europe annually, according to the U.S. government.
Guzmán said that a significant amount of the narcotics trafficked by the Sinaloa cartel goes through the South American nation, according to a report by Colombian news magazine Semana on Dec. 6, 2012.
But Guzmán isn’t the only international drug lord exploiting Ecuador, as alleged Colombian narco-trafficker Henry de Jesús López Londoño, known as “Mi Sangre,” was planning to reside in the country before he was arrested in 2012, according to Semana.
“The information we have is that [López Londoño] was planning on moving to Ecuador,” Gen. José Roberto León Riaño, the director of the Colombian police, said at the time.
In April, police in Guayaquil arrested César Vernaza Quiñónez, known as “El Empresario,” the top enforcer of the Sinaloa cartel in Ecuador, but he escaped from La Roca prison with 17 other inmates on Feb. 11.
Vernaza Quiñónez, who was serving 25 years for murder, and numerous members of his ruthless gang “The Courageous” were among the group of inmates who fled the high-security prison.
The increased narco-trafficking has impacted Ecuador’s homicide rate, which was 12.4 per 100,000 residents in 2012, the lowest it has been since it was 13.26 in 2001. It jumped to 17.79 in 2006 before reaching an all-time high of 18.74 in 2009, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
On Jan. 28, Ecuadoran authorities announced the seizure of an airplane in the coastal province of Los Ríos that was allegedly going to be used to transport drugs for Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. Above, another airplane allegedly used by the cartel was seized in June 2012 in the area of Santa Elena. (Courtesy of the Ministry of the Interior)
“This is the result of organized crime, reflected in killings by hit men or specific forms of intimidation that are only seen with these large international cartels,” Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, who specializes in drug trafficking, said at the “Journalism and Drug Trafficking” seminar held in Quito in mid-2012.
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has blamed the country’s geographic location as the primary reason why narco-trafficking organizations are using Ecuador in the drug trade.
“The most serious security problem facing the country is a border that is hot with organized crime, drug trafficking, illegal groups and paramilitary organizations,” Correa said in mid-2012.
Peru was the largest producer of cocaine in the region in 2011, with 325,000 kilograms, followed by Bolivia (265,000 kilograms) and Colombia (195,000 kilograms), according to the U. S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
But Ecuadoran authorities are bolstering their counter-narcotics fight. This year, police want to limit the planting of coca – the primary ingredient used to produce cocaine – to no more than 25 hectares, according to the police’s National Drug Prevention Plan 2012-2013.
Counter-narcotics agents will focus their effort on the provinces of Sucumbíos, Orellana, Esmeraldas, Carchi and Imbabura.
The plan focuses on the following:
The government will invest as much as US$15 million to implement the plan, according to the National Council for the Control of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances (CONSEP).