Ecuador se desliza hacia el agujero de la violencia y del narcotráfico

Ecuador slides into a hole of violence and drug trafficking


14 | 04 | 2023


Guayaquil has established itself in 2022 as a departure point for cocaine from Colombia, and to a lesser extent from Peru, with an increase in trafficking to Europe

In the picture

Six tons of cocaine seized in Guayaquil in February 2022, destined for Belgium [National Police of Ecuador].

report AMERICAN REGIONAL SECURITY, SRA 2023 /PDF version of article


° In 2022, Ecuador doubled its homicide rate for the second consecutive year, becoming the fourth most violent country in Latin America.

° After the agreement peace agreement in Colombia, the drug mafia began to invade the north of Ecuador; in a short time it has moved towards Guayaquil, crossing the entire country.

° As the transit country with the largest seizures, it has had to resort massively to "encapsulation" to dilute the cocaine powder in concrete blocks.


Located among the main coca-producing countries, Ecuador has been consolidating in recent years as a drug transit territory and distribution hub, which has led to an exponential increase in violence and is also pushing emigration abroad.

The year 2022 has marked a clear worsening of the status, with a record number of homicides and cocaine seizures and with the conversion of Guayaquil, which had traditionally been the economic engine of the country, into the point where the drug routes from Colombia and Peru converge for the exit of the merchandise to the United States and Europe.

Meanwhile, political instability, with a president subject to a possible impeachment process, worsens the country's prospects. The economic data are not worrying for the moment, but the political division may end up complicating national finances. A deterioration of economic, political and institutional life can easily fuel the penetration of drug mafias among the ruling class .

In early April 2003, President Guillermo Lasso decreed a state of emergency in several areas of the country, including area in Guayaquil, Ecuador's main port, and authorized the possession and carrying of weapons for defense staff. In 2022 Ecuador doubled its homicide rate for the second consecutive year issue : if in 2020 it ranked 18th in terms of violence among Latin American countries, with a rate of 7.7 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, in 2022 it was the fourth country, with a rate of 25.9, only behind Venezuela, Honduras and Colombia, but ahead of Mexico, which had a rate of 25.2.

Spill from Colombia

The status has deteriorated very rapidly, mainly as a consequence of the realignment of drug mafias in Colombia. After the 2016 peace agreement , FARC dissidents and other organized crime groups concentrated their activity in southwestern Colombia (especially in the Departments of Nariño and Putumayo, which border Ecuador), using as an exit point for drugs above all the port of Tumaco, a few kilometers from the border.

Soon a significant part of the drug trafficking and the violence that goes with it spilled over into the neighboring country: the routes then also sought the Ecuadorian port of Esmeraldas, and when the volume of drug shipments increased even more, the main outlet for cocaine became Guayaquil, whose large maritime trade facilitates illegal shipments to the United States and Europe. As it crosses Ecuador from north to south, drug transit has boosted corruption, gang confrontation - on the streets and in prisons - and homicides.

In February, a large cocaine hydrochloride processing plant was located 15 kilometers from the Colombian border. laboratory In February, a large cocaine hydrochloride processing plant was located 15 kilometers from the Colombian border, with a production capacity of two tons per month, so that Ecuador is no longer just a transit country, but is entering the production chain from the coca paste that arrives from Colombia.

Guayaquil is also beginning to be an outlet for coca grown in Peru. Although this is mainly diverted to Bolivia, the third largest producer country, from where it leaves for the South American Atlantic, the contact with Europe of the new mafias installed in Ecuador is attracting shipments destined for Europe.

In its latest report annual report on cocaine, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes the presence in Guayaquil of traffickers from the Balkans, including Albanians, and members of Italian criminal groups.

They operate in partnership with Ecuadorian gangs, such as the Choneros, the Tiguerones or the Lobos. Of the drugs seized in 2021, 33% were destined for Europe, compared to 9% in 2019.

The increase in Colombian drug transports through Ecuador is at the same time boosted by the need of the cartels to sell more crops in Colombia, where in 2021 the hectares of coca cultivation increased by 43% (in Peru it increased by 30% and in Bolivia by 4%). If in 2019, Ecuadorian authorities seized 82 tons of drugs, in 2021 there were already 210 (90% was cocaine, basically "crack"), as indicated by the UNODC report . Thus, it is the transit country with the largest seizures, behind only Colombia, which is a producer country.

Ecuador has had to find an efficient way to dispose of the seized product and has become the first country to use on a large scale the "encapsulation" system recommended by the United Nations. In this process the cocaine is converted into an even finer powder, mixed with cement powder, salt and chemical accelerants and the resulting slurry is poured into molds to create concrete blocks for construction.

Political instability

Violence and growing instability are fueling a new wave of migration. Panamanian authorities say that so far this year the number of Ecuadorians crossing the Darien Pass, the Panamanian jungle bordering Colombia, has increased significantly, issue . The difficulty of the crossing highlights the urgency that certain national groups have to leave their country and try to reach the United States from South America.

The political and economic outlook is not good for Ecuador. Since February when President Lasso lost a referendum with several questions, with which he hoped to overcome the parliamentary blockage he suffers as he is in minority, the status has rushed. On March 29, the Constitutional Court authorized the National Assembly to prosecute Lasso, whom the civil service examination accuses of corruption.

The beginning of the process has counted with the support of 104 of the 137 assembly members; the vote of 92 will be enough to remove the president when the end of procedure is reached. Lasso has ruled out using the School to dissolve the Assembly, which would result in a "cross death", because he prefers to "show his face" and be able to defend himself; he trusts that some legislators will desist from the attempt.

As one of the few right-wing presidents in the region today, Lasso's strong deficit containment policy facilitated a $700 million fund from the IMF last December submission . A change of president would not only possibly put the credit at risk, but could also negatively affect the current government's promotion of foreign investment. The cuts implemented by Lasso have been the cause attributed by indigenous activists for their frequent protests against his government.

* This article extends a shorter version by the same author published in the newspaper 'ABC'.