A third of Colombian-produced cocaine ships out of Ecuadorian ports, new report says
The international crime-tracking service InSight Crime reports that more than a third of the cocaine produced in Colombia is destined for Ecuadorian shipping ports. In addition, large quantities of cocaine from Peru and Bolivia also ship out of Ecuador.
“Cocaine trafficking is the main driver of Ecuador’s criminal economy,” InSight says in a new report. “The country’s ports are the primary transit points for shipments to Europe and North America, attracting drug cartels and narcoterrorist groups fighting for market dominance.”
According to the report, skyrocketing violence in Guayaquil, Manta, Esmeraldas and Machala is a “direct result” of the cocaine transport industry.
InSight adds that Ecuador’s banana industry has been specifically targeted by drug cartels as a favored link for shipments. “Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas and thousands of containers of the fruit leave the country’s ports every year,” InSight says. “Drug transporters have infiltrated the industry for the purpose of loading cocaine into containers and there is hard evidence that the cartels have even purchased banana plantations in southern Ecuador for transport purposes.”
In addition to banana shipments, seafood containers are also favored by smugglers, InSight says.
The most recent data from the United Nations Drug and Crime Office estimates that Colombia produced 866 tons of cocaine in 2016 while the 2021 total is 1,400 tons. The UN says the numbers have continued to rise through the first half of 2023.
InSight claims that cartels have developed a sophisticated transport network that ships cocaine to Ecuador, primarily by land routes, where it is loaded into containers at the seaports. “It is a three-pronged operation, with the first involving moving drugs to the ports. In the second and third phases, shipments are put into the containers bound for Europe and the U.S. where they are distributed to wholesale and retail sellers.”
According to both InSight and the UN, Ecuador has become the favored cocaine shipping point due to poor controls at its ports. “Less than 30% of the containers that leave Ecuadorian ports are inspected, a process done manually or with drug-sniffing dogs,” the UN Drug office says. “Due to bribery and extortion, many of the shipments that are inspected contain drugs due to the influence of the cartels.”
Although the government says it plans to install electronic scanners at all 30 shipping docks, only four are currently in operation. Anonymous sources have reported that cartel money is involved in delaying scanner installation.
In addition to poor port controls, the UN says Ecuador’s use of the U.S. dollar makes it attractive to drug cartels. “Money laundering is much easier since dollars are favored by transnational business, both legitimate and illegitimate.”
In its summary, InSight suggests “there is light at the end of the tunnel” for Ecuador. “The country has the great advantage in the fact that, unlike Colombia, Peru and other countries, it does not grow coca and has almost no processing facilities. It is simply the weak link in the shipping chain. If the government is willing to vigorously confront widespread corruption and resistance to installing detection equipment, there is a solution. If security is sufficiently tightened, the cartels will be forced to find other ports and the violence that the country has been experiencing will begin to decline.”