More than 500 soldiers and 150 police evicted a small group of protesters from a hill near Montecristi Saturday as workers moved in to begin the installation of a radar station to detect drug trafficking aircraft.
According to the government, most of the protesters are involved in the transfer of drug shipments between small aircraft flying between Peru and Colombia. The Air Force command said the troops and police were equipped with bulletproof vests and metal helmets as a precaution against possible armed resistance. “Our mission is to stop the transfer of drug shipments headed to Colombia and North America which are operated by powerful drug cartels,” the command said in a prepared statement. “We must take every precaution to protect the troops in the operation.”
Last week, the government said it believed that most of the protesters are involved in the transfer of drugs between aircraft, or from boats arriving on the coast to aircraft, and paid by cartels. According to some sources, the workers are paid $200 to $300 a day for the work.
The installation of the radar station was ordered last week under a decree from President Guillermo Lasso that declared an area in Manabí Province a military defense reserve. According to the president’s office, there are a number of private air strips near Montecristi that serve as transfer stations between aircraft. “The drug flights have been operating for years since there is no radar to spot them,” the president’s press office said. “Radar equipment was purchased several years ago but was never installed so these flights have been operating without interference from law enforcement.”
The Montecristi radar station is one of three the government is installing to detect small aircraft along the coast. According to the Air Force, the radar will be fully operational within four to five weeks.
“This is not a war on drugs but a war on the violence that the illegal drug trade is bringing to Ecuador,” the president’s office said. “We have witnessed a massive increase in drug-related murders over the past year in all the coastal provinces and this is connected to the drug transfer activity operating in Ecuador.”
According to National Police records, there have been 106 murders in Manabí Province in the first seven months of 2021, up from 32 in the same period of 2020, and 17 in 2019.