President Guillermo Lasso has designated a section of Manabí Province a “military reserve,” giving the Armed Forces additional authority to combat drug trafficking. The presidential order focuses on an area near Montecristi known as the San Isidro Hills that is said to be a transfer hub for drug shipments headed to North America.
One of the provisions of the order allows radar equipment to be installed on private property. The radar will monitor light aircraft traffic in the area known for having a number of private air strips officials believe are used for drug transport operations. According to the Army command in Manta, radar equipment will be operational by the end of August.
The command says that the drugs arrive by air and sea from Peru and are off-loaded in Manabí Province for shipment north. It says the operations are directed by drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico.
“One of the radar stations being set up on Ecuador’s coast will be situated at a high elevation in the San Isidro Hills to identify and neutralize aircraft of dubious origin believed to be involved in drug trafficking and organized crime,” the presidential press office said in a news release. “Drug transport operations pose a significant threat to the Ecuadorian population and have led to increased violence in the country, particularly in coastal provinces.”
According to National Police, murders have increased as much as 400 percent since the end of 2019 in Guayaquil, Manta and other coastal communities, with almost all of the increase attributed to the drug trade. In addition, officials of the national prison system say that most of the murders occurring in prisons are related to drug trafficking.
Residents near the site of one radar installation are protesting, claiming that it will damage their property. “We are also concerned that the equipment will cause environmental damage, harming the area’s fauna and flora.” In pictures of the protest, a number of men are seen brandishing machetes.
A presidential adviser who asked not be named was quoted on a Manta-based website saying that dozens, maybe hundreds, of residents in the San Isidro Hills area are involved in transferring drug shipments between boats and light aircraft. “They say they are worried about hurting the flora but the only flora they are really interested in are coca and marijuana plants.”