OE Watch Commentary: Drug cartel presence, paramilitary incursions from Colombia, and illegal fishing are just a few of the security issues Ecuador is currently facing. In late 2017, it was reported that Mexican drug cartels were operating in Ecuador (as well as in 50 other countries and five continents) as cited in the excerpted article from Infobae. While Ecuadorean authorities denied the claim, it became difficult to refute after the Ecuadorean Navy seized 1.3 tons of cocaine off the countries’ Pacific Coast in December 2017 as discussed in the excerpted article from El Universo. This same source also discussed that in recent years authorities seized seven narco-submarines in Ecuadorean territory, including two semi-submersibles in Isla Puna and five submersibles in Esmeraldas. Other items seized included towed torpedoes and buoys with geo-location capabilities for moving drugs. These items allow drug traffickers to simply cut drugs from underneath a transport vessel if discovered and with geo-coordinates, they are able to return and find the shipment at high sea once authorities are gone.
Geographically speaking, Ecuador sits in a vulnerable position between the world’s two largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru. Its location is also complicated by the fact that it is situated along the Pacific coast, making its territorial waters a key transit zone for drug traffickers and other illicit maritime flows to North America and Asia. Analysts also worry that improvements to the Trans-Amazonian Highway connecting Peru and Colombia through Ecuador, part of the nation’s notably good investment in road infrastructure, may exacerbate contraband flows through the country via overland routes as well.
Apart from drug trafficking, Ecuador is plagued by Colombian nationals fleeing violence from paramilitary groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC in Spanish). The country also serves as a safe haven for paramilitary groups looking to escape persecution in Colombia as discussed in the excerpted article from El Comercio. Areas of particular concern for this type of activity were cited as Sucumbíos, Carachi, and Esmereldas. The article from El Comercio also notes the formation of new guerilla groups in Ecuador and, in fact, residents from Sucumbíos have warned the government about this activity for some time.
Beyond drug trafficking, security in Ecuador is challenged by a range of other criminal activity, one of which is illegal fishing as discussed in another excerpted article from El Comercio. Although this problem is a constant concern, it reached a critical point in August 2017 when Ecuador’s authorities seized a Chinese fishing vessel in the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 300 tons of fish and 6,600 hammerhead sharks, which are considered a protected species. Security in and around the Galapagos Islands is a priority for Ecuador, but the area is difficult to protect given it is located 620 miles off the coast, making it an issue for the country’s Navy and Coast Guard to maintain a constant presence.
Finally, since Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its official currency in 2000, it has become an attractive center for money laundering as discussed in the excerpted article from Extra. The country is taking steps to thwart this activity by creating new laws regarding the transportation and movement of US dollars and the government created a financial task force dedicated to mitigating money laundering. In response to the multiple security challenges mentioned in this commentary, Ecuador is fighting the issues head on with capable and professional police and military forces. Nonetheless, continued vigilance is necessary to keep security concerns in the country to a minimum. End OE Watch Commentary (Fiegel)