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13 de Agosto del 2021
Lectura: 54 minutos
13 de Agosto del 2021
Redacción Plan V
Ecuador: Anatomy of organized crime and its actors

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Ecuador is the country with the highest Crime Index in South America, second only to Colombia. This report portrays in its crude dimension the impact of criminal markets and actors in Ecuadorian society and the capacity of institutions to deal with it.

The Global Organized Crime Index assesses the levels of organized crime in 194 countries around the world, as well as their resilience to organized criminal activity. The Index, which consists of two composite metrics, ranks countries on the basis of their levels of crime, with a score from 1 to 10 (lowest to highest level of crime), and on the basis of their resilience to organized crime, from 1 to 10 (lowest to highest level of resilience).

The Global Index is produced by the Global Initiative. The Global Initiative is an independent civil society organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, with a globally distributed Secretariat and a high-level advisory board.

Its network members include leading law enforcement, governance and development professionals who are dedicated to finding new and innovative strategies and responses to organized crime.

According to the Index, Ecuador (with information from 2019) has a Global Crime Index of 6.56 out of 10. For reference, Colombia has 7.81, which is the highest; Venezuela 5.99, Peru 6.03, Brazil 6.21. Ecuador has the second-highest Crime Index in South America.

The Index examines, always from 1 to 10, the criminal markets in each country, the criminal actors and the resilience of each state, i.e. the capacity of each country to face the challenges according to the impact of each market and criminal actor on society and its institutions.

In criminal markets, Ecuador has a score of 6.0. This means, according to the Global Initiative's interpretation, that the illicit market "has a negative influence on a large part of society and generates a lot of value".


Human smuggling (5.5) 

Interpretation: Moderate influence. The illicit market has influence in some sectors of society and its influence is growing; it generates some value and it is growing.

DefinitionDrawing on a range of sources, the Index covers human smuggling in the context of contemporary forms of slavery and includes organ trafficking. In line with common interpretations of human trafficking, this criminal market does not require the movement of individuals, and includes men, women and children. Where there is movement, this can be both cross-border and internal flows (e.g. from rural to urban areas). For the purposes of the Index, human smuggling includes the activity, means and purpose, and reflects all stages of the illicit activity, from recruitment and movement, to harboring and receipt of persons. To distinguish this market from the human trafficking market, human trafficking involves a form of coercion, deception, abduction or fraud, and is carried out for the purpose of exploitation, regardless of the victim's consent. According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, exploitation includes, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Authorities have a weak position

Ecuador is a country of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking, mainly for sexual exploitation and forced labor (i.e. domestic servitude, forced begging, work in banana and palm plantations, floriculture, shrimp farming, fishing, clandestine workshops, street vending, mining). Human trafficking also includes organ trafficking, illegal adoption and forced recruitment for militias. Between January 2017 and July 2019, 332 victims were reported ([27 % of them in Quito] 60.8 % Ecuadorian, 1.2 % Colombian and 0.6 % Venezuelan). The victims were between 18 and 35 years old, 83 % of them were women and 17 % were men.

Vulnerable groups include people with disabilities, returned migrants, indigenous communities and young people with access to the Internet, as the main recruitment tool is social networks. Some victims are recruited within their family circle, and sometimes there are misconceptions about the legality of trafficking, as it is part of certain cultural practices. Eighty percent of the cases correspond to domestic demand, and 20 percent to international demand.

The high level of human trafficking and the lack of information on the number of organized crime groups operating in this area leaves Ecuadorian authorities in a weak position. The state's approach to combating human trafficking involves prevention and awareness-raising, as society accepts and normalizes begging, child labor and sexual exploitation. Victims often do not realize that they are being exploited, or do not report the abuses they suffer, out of fear.


Most cases of human trafficking reported by victims are discovered through other crimes, such as family violence, disappearances, etc. As for child labor, in 2012 it reached 17 %, and in 2018 it was reduced to 6 %. In addition, organ trafficking has disappeared since the 2011 Organic Law on Organ, Tissue and Cell Donation and Transplantation was passed, making all citizens donors.

The most difficult crime to combat is sexual and labor exploitation, as there is a parallel legal trade, which is prostitution. Legal brothels often have sex slavery operations (subjecting especially Colombian, Venezuelan and Haitian migrants), but are not prosecuted due to police and judicial corruption. There are at least 55,000 prostitutes, of which 96% (52,000) are Ecuadorian. In addition to the naturalization of prostitution, there is the problem of the normalization of the use of social networks as a means for human trafficking and sexual exploitation, in national and international markets. According to a recent report, the profiles of the victims are as follows: 97% are Ecuadorian, 2% are Colombian and the remaining 1% come from other nations, such as Venezuela. In addition, 89% are women and 11% are men. In terms of age, 62 % of the victims are adults, 37 % are adolescents and 1 % are elderly. Traffickers in the sexual exploitation market are 90 % male, and their ages range from 19 to 25 years old. Traffickers in the labor exploitation market are 80% male and 20% female. In addition, the problem of child begging gained new momentum after the last economic crisis.

Human trafficking (5.0)

Interpretation: The illicit market has influence in some sectors of society and its influence is growing; it generates some value and this is growing.

Definition. According to the Index, human smuggling requires the criminalization of the illegal entry, transit or stay of migrants (by land, sea or air) by an organized criminal group for the purpose of financial or material gain. Activity in this criminal economy reflects all stages of illicit activity, including the production, procurement, provision or possession of fraudulent travel or identity documents when committed for the purpose of enabling the smuggling of migrants. Although they are distinct crimes, human smuggling can become human trafficking when the element of exploitation is involved.

Ecuador and its Mariscal Sucre International Airport near Quito are one of the main arrival areas for thousands of migrants seeking to enter the United States due to Ecuador's visa waiver for many citizens. From Quito, criminal networks transport people arriving from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cuba, Haiti, Senegal (and other African nations) to Ipiales, Colombia, to reach the United States. Victims of Asian origin usually arrive in Bolivia (transported by Chinese criminal networks), from where they start an irregular route (land and sea) through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala and Mexico, to finally reach the U.S. The journey can take between 60 and 100 days.

Irregular migration has become more dangerous, due to Mexican cartels now forcing migrants to carry drugs in their suitcases. A common term for smugglers is "Coyoteros". Due to reports of human trafficking and smuggling, since August 2019, Ecuador has been asking for visas for citizens arriving from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Angola, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India, DRC and Sri Lanka. There have also been reported cases of smuggling of Haitians to Brazil, as well as Venezuelans to Peru, in poor conditions, where Ecuadorian mafias charge between USD 70 and USD 100 to Venezuelans arriving without a visa to enter through the border to Peru. In 2017, the country registered 28 reports of human trafficking, but most victims do not file complaints or drop the case at some point in the judicial process, either out of fear or because they have reached an agreement with the traffickers on their debt.

There is a predominant demand in the country for smugglers to take Ecuadorians to the United States. Sixty-three percent of Ecuadorian migrants are from Azuay and Cañar, and pay between USD 12 000 and USD 20 000. Between 2008 and 2019, 133 Ecuadorian migrants drowned while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, 58 % of the deaths occurred on the maritime routes and 19 % due to extreme conditions such as heat stroke and dehydration. Between 2007 and 2018, 8490 Ecuadorian migrants were deported by Mexican immigration police.

The most recent estimate available in the country is from 2004, when this crime was estimated to be worth USD 40 million; however, it is difficult to calculate an exact market value. Ecuador is both a source and transit country. In addition to the above, there are also networks that traffic people from Asia and Africa. Asian networks charge their victims between US$25,000 and US$30,000 to transport them to the United States, and Ecuador is a transit destination. Neighboring countries, such as Colombia and Peru, have a domestic market of similar size and value, as they also serve as transit points to final destinations, such as the United States. They have also experienced market growth due to the influx of Venezuelans fleeing their country.

Arms trafficking (7.0)

Interpretation: The illicit market has a negative influence on much of society and this influence is growing; it generates a lot of value, which is increasing.

DefinictionArms trafficking involves the import, export, acquisition, sale, delivery, movement or transfer of firearms, their parts, components and ammunition across national borders, as well as the intentional diversion of firearms from legal to illegal trade, without involving the movement of items across physical borders. The term "firearm" means any portable weapon that has a barrel and that fires, is designed to fire, or may be readily converted to fire a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive, excluding antique firearms or their replicas, according to the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The terms "small arms" and "light weapons" refer to a number of specific weapons, as defined by the Small Arms Survey. Often, arms trafficking facilitates the perpetration of other organized crime activities.

Ecuador: hired killers, drug traffickers, extortionists and loan sharks often rent guns for three days at a price of USD 500

In Ecuador, the manufacture, purchase and sale of arms is highly regulated. However, the state has not been able to prevent the growth of the illegal trade in recent years. Although the public company Santa Bárbara has a monopoly on arms manufacturing, there is a national black market that provides handmade weapons to criminals, mainly on a rental basis. Hitmen for hire, drug micro-traffickers, extortionists and loan sharks often rent these weapons for three days at a price of USD 500, a profitable business for artisanal manufacturers.

In 2016, when the carrying of weapons was banned and controls were tightened, most crimes were perpetrated without weapons. The percentage of crimes with firearms went from 75% in 2012, to 42% in 2016. The rate of unregistered and illegal weapons per 100 people is estimated at 1.83.

National Police intelligence reports indicate that arms trafficking is destined for sale in three markets: illegal mining (with national and transnational actors), guerrillas in Colombia (international actors) and local common crime (national actors). As for the international market, Colombian guerrilla groups can pay between USD 1500 and USD 5000 for an AK-47, almost double its price on the legal market. Between 2017 and 2019, 13,530 weapons were seized in Ecuador. Despite having almost half the population of Peru and a territory four times smaller, Ecuador has an illegal arms market of almost the same size. On average, 4,510 weapons are seized each year. In recent years, reports of arms seizures have increased.

Transnational criminal structures are known to smuggle high-tech weapons manufactured in the United States and Mexico through Ecuador from Peru to Colombian armed groups.

The traffickers stop mainly in Guayaquil, where they sell some of the weapons on the local black market. In the last nine years, police have seized some 40,000 contraband weapons, including 12,000 high caliber rifles, all of which are targeted at criminal organizations. Guayaquil is the city with the highest number of seizures, with 24% of the national total in the last three years. Quito remains in seventh place. It is common to find drugs along with the seized weapons. Many of these weapons are used to monitor illegal mining.

Authorities have been particularly vigilant since October 2018, when "Operation Chameleon" dismantled an arms trafficking network that smuggled weapons from the Ecuadorian army to a former FARC mafia group known as the Oliver Sinisterra Front. This group of now largely demobilized FARC dissidents was under the orders of Walter Patricio Arizala, alias "Guacho," who was one of the most wanted criminals in both Colombia and Ecuador until his death in December 2018. The intelligence unit's investigation revealed that the network used military personnel to steal weapons, ammunition and explosives from barracks. Organized crime structures are known to be moving entire arsenals of high-tech weapons from the United States and Mexico to Peru, and then to Ecuador, and then to armed groups in Colombia. National military materiel has also been trafficked to Colombia.

Crimes against flora (6.0)

Interpretation: The illicit market has a negative influence on a large part of society and generates a lot of value.

Definiction: Flora related crimes involves both illegal trade and possession of species covered by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), as well as other species protected by national legislation.

The Environmental Protection Unit (UPMA) of the National Police, together with engineers from the Department of Green Surveillance of the Ministry of the Environment, conducted a survey in Manabí to prevent illegal timber trafficking.

A cubic meter of cedar/mahogany, which is prohibited, can cost US$3,000.

Illegal logging takes place mainly in the coastal and Amazon region (jungle areas), where the State cannot easily enter. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Unit (UPMA) of the National Police seized 13 006 cubic meters of timber, of which 3349.3 came from the province of Esmeraldas, close to the border with Colombia. During the first five months of 2018, 4285.16 cubic meters of timber were recovered.

Crimes against flora include the destruction of protected areas. Reports indicate that in 2019 the maximum level of deforestation allowed in Yasuní Park was exceeded. Illegally logged species include CITES-protected species such as mahogany and cedar. The situation is critical in the Amazon rainforest provinces, where trees are cut in these protected areas, such as Yasuní Park. The most endangered species in this region is mahogany, of which there are only 4,000 trees left in the country, although cedar is also another target of loggers.
To protect the mahogany, the Ministry of Environment declared a 10-year logging ban.

However, experts argue that the measure is irrelevant if the government does not do something to enforce it. Typically, Peruvian loggers cross the Amazon border to cut cedar and mahogany before returning to their country via the rivers. Between 2013 and 2017, only 6.92 cubic meters of mahogany were seized. In 2017, 10 police officers were arrested for extortion and charging a transit toll for illegal logging. There were payments of between USD 150 and USD 200 for official stamps and between USD 50 and USD 100 to bribe other officials. There were 108 documents for the movement of timber products, for which USD 8001,200 were charged; and also USD 4800 in cash, 31 cell phones and documentation from the Ministry of Environment. If the timber stays in the country, it is "laundered" along with legally harvested timber. The criminal networks pay the workers US$10 per day. The Ecuadorian government does not have a plan with its bordering countries to deal with this illegal activity.

The size of the market can be measured by the number of hectares of forest lost per year. According to Global Forest Watch, Ecuador ranked 17th in the world in this regard in 2018. According to the latest statistics for this market (2011), illegal logging in the country is worth USD 100 million. Illegal loggers in the Amazon rainforest receive USD 10 per day. One cubic meter of cedar/mahogany can cost USD 3,000. A truck can transport timber worth up to USD 3400 (March 2019). The illegal logging market in Ecuador is small compared to that of its neighbors, with a value of USD 100 million.

Crimes against fauna (6.5)

Interpretacitio: The illicit market has a negative influence on a large part of society and generates a lot of value.

Definicition. Like offenses against flora, offenses against fauna species include poaching, illegal trade and possession of CITES species, as well as any other species protected by national legislation. The Index also takes into account protected marine species: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing falls into this category.

The main problem for Ecuador is the magnitude of illegal fishing

Ecuador is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, making it very attractive to traffickers who easily capture and transport unique species, often for the purpose of selling them for biological collections abroad. Due to government campaigns, seizures have increased. Between 2003 and 2017, an average of 770 vertebrates were seized per year; however, in 2018 that number rose to 3771. Of these, 1611 were mammals, 1284 birds and 876 reptiles. The most trafficked animals from Ecuador are birds, especially parrots, in addition to reptiles and mammals. The most popular reptiles among traffickers and their clients are boa constrictors and caimans, mostly for their skins or meat.

The most serious threat is illegal fishing, especially of protected species. In the region, Ecuador leads the nefarious business of shark fin trafficking. Photo: Galapagos National Park / El Universo

In Ecuador there are at least 1252 endangered vertebrate species, including the spectacled bear, condor, harpy eagle and tapir. This is mainly due to domestic consumption. In addition, a macaw can cost between US$1,000 and US$5,000 on the international market, which increases the attractiveness of this illegal activity among locals. According to experts, there is a naturalization of this crime in the country. Although control has been strengthened, people continue to keep these animals as pets or consume bushmeat, especially in the Amazon region. More exotic animals are found as pets every year, and bushmeat consumption has increased in tandem with this population. In 2017, 476.4 kg of bushmeat and 3590 charapa turtle eggs were seized.

In 2018, the government made some notable seizures: it fined a citizen USD 3940 for possessing an agouti and a giant charapa tortoise; sent a Japanese biologist to prison for two years for attempting to smuggle 250 insects and arachnids for scientific research through an airport; and prosecuted two park rangers from the Galapagos National Reserve for stealing 123 giant tortoise hatchlings of the Chelonoidis vicina and Chelonoidis guntheri species.

Another cause for concern in Ecuador has been illegal fishing, allegedly involving Chinese nets. Officials from the Ministry of Environmental Affairs have also been implicated in corruption cases related to shark fin export permits. In May 2020, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported the seizure of two containers full of shark fins from Ecuador, 26 tons of which arrived in Hong Kong in January 2020. These shipments are valued at USD 1.1 million. There is no doubt that the authorities are making efforts to control and prosecute these crimes, but the growing connection with other economies and illicit groups, on the one hand, and with powerful trading partners such as China, on the other, make effective prosecution difficult. The main problem for the Ecuadorian authorities is the scale of illegal fishing, as even with the help of the US and the UK, maritime patrolling is not enough.

Crimes against non-renewable resources (7.0)

Interpretration: The illicit market has a negative influence on a large part of society and this influence is growing; it generates a lot of value, which is increasing.

Definition. The Index includes illicit extraction, trafficking, commingling, bunkering and extraction of natural resources. It also covers any illicit activity related to the trade of such commodities, including counterfeiting of false prices. The Index covers commodities such as oil, gold, gas, precious stones, diamonds and precious metals, among others.

Fuel subsidies benefit the mafias with USD 400 million a year

Crimes against non-renewable resources are mainly committed by national criminal networks; however, in the last year, Colombian mafia-style groups, such as the FOS and ELN, have become involved in illegal mining. The most damaging crime for the state is fuel trafficking from Ecuador to Peru and Colombia. Due to a subsidy, Ecuador has one of the cheapest fuel and gas prices in Latin America. For this reason, criminal networks (composed of Ecuadorians and Peruvians on the southern border, and Ecuadorians and Colombians on the northern border) find it profitable to sell these contraband products abroad to earn the price difference. In addition, mining and oil extraction concessions, which are increasingly granted in protected areas as part of the National System of Protected Areas, constitute threats despite being part of regulated procedures.

Fuel trafficking generates a US$400 million annual business for the mafias, thanks to the intra-regional price difference. Photo. Armed Forces

In Ecuador, a liter of gasoline has an average price of US$0.63, while in Colombia it is US$0.71 and in Peru it is US$1.09. In addition to the limited quantities, a tank of subsidized gas costs US$1.60 in Ecuador and can be sold for US$4 abroad. It is estimated that Ecuador loses US$400 million a year by smuggling fossil fuels into Colombia and Peru. There is an important aspect of the fuel smuggling network that is related to drug trafficking. As gasoline is needed to process cocaine, drug producers, especially FARC dissident groups, are forced to buy contraband gasoline to reduce their costs. In this regard, there are agreements between cartels and smugglers (especially artisanal fishermen) to deliver the fuel, which can be done by land, rivers or sea.

Regarding illegal mining, in recent years, some FARC and ENL dissident groups have engaged in illegal mining activities along the border with Colombia. The most notable case occurred in 2017, when 1,200 illegal miners, including members of the aforementioned groups, took control of the town of Buenos Aires and the nearby gold mine. In 2019, the situation forced the State to intervene and move people out of the area.

The connection to other illicit markets, and to licit economies and sectors, makes control difficult. In some areas, illegal mining activities are part of community life and have become completely normalized. In cities such as Zaruma, mining is the main economic activity. On average, it represents 70% of the economy, both directly and indirectly. Some 6,000 people are regularly engaged in mining and it is estimated that illegal mining in Ecuador generates USD 200 million per year. This means that Ecuador's largest gold deposit is also in the hands of organized crime, where up to 10,000 people work. Control of illegally mined gold in Imbabura province has formed a criminal system that runs through the entire country. Dozens of trucks transport hundreds of tons of material along a 650 km route to processing plants in Azuay and El Oro. It is estimated that the security cost for traffic agents, police, army and other authorities to allow the material to pass along this route is US$50,000. Criminal structures of all kinds have been extorting money from everyone from mine entrance controllers to restaurant owners.


The FOS could be influencing mining activities in the border provinces of Esmeraldas and Carchi, specifically in the parishes of San Lorenzo and Tobar Donoso.

The region has become a hub for crimes such as drug trafficking, extortion, organized crime and murder, as well as serious environmental damage. They use high-powered weapons, which easily exceed the capabilities of government authorities, who were unable to take control of the mining area for two years. During this time, some 10,000 foreigners dug at least 500 mineshafts and installed an expensive infrastructure to extract and process the ore, which was exported in bars to Colombia and Peru. Upon arrival, traders paid USD 20 for a sack of the material. Once converted into ingots, a kilo of illegal gold sells for less than half its value on the legal international market, which is currently US$42,000. Miners have claimed that they earn an average of USD 40 per day. In early July 2019, a total of 1200 police and 1500 soldiers, accompanied by at least 20 prosecutors, entered Buenos Aires in Imbabura province to restore order and security. This is one of the strongest examples of the measures taken to stop illegal mining operations in the area. Illegal gold mining is a growing concern for authorities, but as in other markets, lack of maritime resources and poor border security, along with corruption among government officials, hinder progress.

Ecuador is one of the American countries with the highest number of illegal mines. According to its size, this market is the third largest in the region, after Venezuela and Brazil, followed by Peru. Actors such as police, soldiers and officials of governmental organizations have been designated as facilitators for the transport of illicit merchandise. Low and mid-level police officers in the border provinces demand money from smugglers to let them move subsidized fuel to Colombia and Peru, and there are suspicions that high-level authorities, especially in Petroecuador (the country's public oil company) allow major smugglers to transport large quantities of fuel to Peru and Colombia.

Heroin trafficking (6.0)

Interpretation: The illicit market has a negative influence on a large part of society and generates a lot of value.

Definition. The Index covers the production, distribution and sale of heroin. The use of the drug, while not in itself a form of organized crime, was taken into account in determining the "scope" of the illicit drug market. Synthetic opioids are considered within the category of synthetic drugs.

Corruption in Ecuador's heroin market ranges from bribery to extortion to transporting drugs in police vehicles.

Heroin use has become a difficult problem to tackle, especially in Guayaquil. Today, a bag sells for as little as US$0.50 in Guayaquil, compared to US$2.50 for crack. Colombians in Guayaquil have set up micro-trafficking networks, loan sharking operations and even a school to train hired killers. Their operations have two wings: on the one hand, there are the distribution networks, where sector chiefs hand out drug packages to street dealers. On the other, drug lords maintain networks of thugs and hitmen to provide security, settle scores, collect debts and wage turf wars. Control of the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods has been ceded to these networks. Drugs, prostitution and guns fill the streets and shootings occur almost daily. The police only dare to enter these areas as part of major operations. In addition, there are an estimated 2500 private airstrips throughout the country, but between 2003 and 2019, the police have only identified 19 planes transporting drugs. This shows that police efforts are far from covering the vast extent of heroin trafficking.

Corruption in Ecuador's heroin market ranges from bribery to extortion, to transporting drugs in police vehicles and using state infrastructure for landing planes, transporting drugs or illicit financing. Members of the Guayaquil police have been caught tipping off traffickers about their operations, as well as providing security and allegedly planning assassinations with local criminal bosses. In 2019, Colombian police reported the dismantling of an organization dedicated to heroin trafficking.

They used routes along the border with Ecuador and then transported the drug by air to the United States and Europe. The seizures indicate that the trade is mainly for domestic consumption. The average age of drug use is 14 years, and heroin (after marijuana) is the second drug consumed at the youngest average age (14.39 years), followed by cocaine (14.72 years). A 2017 survey found that 15 % of adolescents know where to buy marijuana and 8 % know where to buy heroin. An estimated 2.51 % of adolescents use heroin, as it has become fashionable under the name "Drug H". This is a new drug cocktail made by traffickers, which can contain between 25% and 80% heroin, plus caffeine, diltiazem (a drug used for hypertension), rat poison, cement and anesthetics for livestock. A small packet of this drug costs between US$0.25 and US$3.00. One aspect that worries doctors is that adolescents do not use a single drug, but a mixture of them. Sometimes, dealers sell marijuana mixed with a small amount of "H-Drug" to create a constant addiction. In mid-2019, the Hospital de Neurociencias de Guayaquil registered 28 734 cases of drug use, among which 5025 patients presented symptoms of psychosis and withdrawal syndrome.

According to the 2019 UN World Drug Report, substance abuse figures in Ecuador are lower than in most Latin American countries. Still, hundreds of thousands of people in the country abuse opiates, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine-type drugs and are in need of drug addiction treatment. As in many other countries, poverty and unemployment drive many people to use or traffic drugs. According to this report, opium cultivation and production, as well as poppy eradication in Ecuador in the reporting period (between 2008 and 2017) have been reduced.

The size of the production market in Colombia and Mexico is larger; however, Ecuador remains a transit point to get the drug to the United States. There are no official values for this market in Ecuador, however, an estimate can be made with seizure statistics and the value of a kilogram of the drug. In 2017, the police seized 381 kg of heroin. Taking into account that the drug seized in Ecuador is estimated to correspond to 25% of the drug that is marketed, the estimated total amount is 1524 kg. If this figure is multiplied by US$20,000 (the average cost of a kilogram of heroin), the value of this market can be estimated to be at least US$30.4 million. A kilogram of heroin in Colombia costs only US$5,615, while in Ecuador it can reach US$20,000. Other estimates state that, in Ecuador, a kilogram of heroin costs only US$7,000, while in Europe it can reach US$70,000. In the United States, the cost can reach US$50,000.

Cocaine trafficking (7.5)

Interpretation: The illicit market has a negative influence on almost all sectors of society; it generates a lot of profit and the market has a lot of value.

Definition. Like heroin, the production, distribution and sale of cocaine and its derivatives are included in the Index. Drug use, although not in itself a form of organized crime, was taken into account in determining the "scope" of the illicit drug market.

Ecuador has become one of the world's cocaine highways

Ecuador is a transshipment point for cocaine produced in Peru and Colombia. Despite having no major drug cartels, Ecuador has become one of the world's cocaine highways. Trafficking is largely controlled by Mexican and Colombian mafia groups and cartels, which partner with local gangs. Cocaine from Colombia arrives mainly in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Sucumbios, where drug traffickers take advantage of the absence of government officials. Most of the drugs are moved by road to the ports.

Increased coca production in Colombia, as well as an estimated increase in coca production in Peru, are contributing to increased cocaine trafficking through Ecuador, as evidenced by recent seizures of several tons of drugs. There have even been very recent seizures, such as one on September 22, 2020, of 400-500 kg of cocaine destined for Guayaquil prior to transport to Europe. At present, interceptions mainly involve road transport to the port for containerized sea shipments. Figures, obtained from anti-drug trafficking sources, indicate that in 2018, 44 % of drug seizures were destined for the United States, 22 % for Europe, 4 % for Central America, 1 % for Asia and Oceania, and 28 % had an unknown destination. The U.S. market is mainly supplied by boats sailing from the coast and small planes, while cocaine is shipped to Europe in contaminated freighters.

Police action has become increasingly effective in capturing cocaine, but the big mafias remain untouched. Only the operators go down. Photo: DNA

Nearly a third of Colombian cocaine passes through Ecuador, where it is stored and shipped mainly in Guayaquil, to be smuggled in maritime shipments. Given the lack of resources, officials are only able to register around 3 percent of shipments leaving the ports, creating ideal conditions for criminal networks to deliver their products. Hiding drugs inside maritime shipments has become so commonplace that the technique has been dubbed "blind hooking," and involves targeting specific containers before they are loaded onto a ship. Smugglers break the seal on the containers, hide the drugs inside, and then install a new seal. As a result, the drugs are often hidden among the legal cargo.

The amount of drugs flowing through Ecuador, estimated at more than 100 metric tons of cocaine per year, has contributed to an increase in all types of crime. Homicide rates have increased over the last decade, in direct correlation with the increased flow of drugs. Eighty kilograms of cocaine were seized on a ship carrying bananas from Ecuador to Turkey. Although the government has tightened control, seizures have increased in recent years and, therefore, so has cocaine trafficking. 2016 set the record, with 110 tons seized, followed by 2017 with 98 tons and 2018 with 97 tons. By August 2019, 50 tons of the drug had been seized. From 2014 to 2019, authorities seized a total of 500 tons of drugs, making Ecuador the non-producing country seizing the largest amount of drugs in the world. Like other drugs, cocaine trafficking remains strong due to corruption.

While Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are the world's largest producers of cocaine, easy access to precursors and processing chemicals in Ecuador - and limited state control over them - has reduced the risk and cost of manufacturing cocaine domestically. Thus, while Ecuador remains a transit route for cocaine, there is increasing evidence of the availability of these precursors within the country. In this regard, Ecuador does not have a clear position. However, the US State Department has listed Ecuador among the top 22 drug transit or production countries in the world. In 2017, police seized 81.7 metric tons of cocaine. Taking into account that the drug seized in Ecuador corresponds to 25% of the drug that is traded, the estimated total amount is 326.86 metric tons. If this figure is multiplied by USD 4 million (the average cost of a ton of cocaine in Ecuador), the value of this market can be estimated at USD 1.3 billion. The price of a kilogram of cocaine can increase from USD 1300 in Colombia to USD 27 000 in the United States, USD 53 000 in Europe and USD 200 000 in Australia. In 2017, ECLAC estimated that drug trafficking in Colombia generated USD 15 billion per year. In Ecuador, drug trafficking generates USD 1.5 billion per year.

Cannabis trafficking (4.0)

Interpretation: The illicit market influences some sectors of society and generates some value.

Definition: The illicit cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis oil, resin, herb or leaves are included in the Index. The use of the drug, while not in itself a form of organized crime, was taken into account in determining the "extent" of the illicit drug market. Recognizing the increasing legalization of cannabis production, sale and consumption in a number of countries, the Index focused only on areas where the activity is criminalized and/or where criminal groups are involved in the supply chain.

The annual value of the market in Ecuador is USD 40 million

According to the police, marijuana cultivation is minimal and cannot supply the local market. It is estimated that 60 tons of drugs are consumed each year, 80% of which is marijuana. In April 2019, Ecuadorian authorities seized 79.5 kilos of marijuana camouflaged in double-bottom covers in a vehicle. The drug came from Cali, Colombia. In 2018, anti-narcotics police forces seized 17 519.49 kg of marijuana. The variety called "creepy" has stronger hallucinogenic effects and is the most sought after. It arrives in the country from Colombia, where it is grown mainly in Valle del Cauca, processed in the municipalities of Miranda, Toribio and Corinto, and finally harvested and distributed from Cali. Ecuador is an attractive market for this drug, as a kilo can cost US$700. Ecuador is also used as a transit route to send the drug to Chile, where one kilogram can cost more than US$3,500. Some 9.57% of adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age consume cannabis.

However, consumption and trafficking levels could change due to the legalization of medical cannabis in 2019. Ecuadorians' favorite drug of choice is alcohol, followed by marijuana and opium derivatives. It has been reported that the networks trafficking this drug are different from those trafficking cocaine, whose aim is to reach the international market. The 2019 UN World Drug Report notes that substance abuse figures in Ecuador are lower than in most Latin American countries. Still, hundreds of thousands of people in the country abuse opiates, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamine-type drugs and are in need of drug addiction treatment.

According to a recent survey, almost half of the cannabis users in Ecuador are not just "recreational users", but dependent users. There are no official statistics on the value of cannabis trafficking. However, an estimate can be made with seizure statistics and the value of a kilogram on the domestic market. In 2017, the police seized 14 597 kg of cannabis. Taking into account that the seized drug corresponds to 25% of the drug marketed in the country, the estimated total amount is 58 388 kg. If this figure is multiplied by USD 700 (the average cost of a kilogram of marijuana in Ecuador), the value of this market can be estimated at USD 40.87 million.

Synthetic drug industry (5.5)

Interpretation: The illicit market has influence in some sectors of society and its influence is growing; it generates some value and this is growing.

Definition. Like other illicit drug markets, the production, distribution and sale of synthetic drugs are included in the Index. In particular, synthetic opioids such as tramadol, as well as amphetamine-type stimulants, methamphetamines and fentanyl are included in this criminal market, as well as any other narcotic drug covered by the 1972 Protocol, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The use of these drugs, although not in itself a form of organized crime, was taken into account in determining the "scope" of the illicit drug market. In particular, "substandard and counterfeit medical products" have been excluded, according to the World Health Organization.

The production and consumption of synthetic drugs is an issue of growing concern

According to reports, the use of unspecified amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) among high school students in Ecuador is higher than that of cannabis and cocaine (2014). Ecuador has reported a significant increase in lifetime prevalence of ecstasy use among high school students (1.3% in 2008; 2.3% in 2012). Each ecstasy pill costs US$10.

They are mainly imported from the Netherlands and distributed in nightlife centers. In September 2018, a man was arrested as part of an operation to dismantle an ecstasy trafficking network. An undercover agent explained that the criminal network used prostitutes and profilers in nightclubs to offer the pills. In this way, they would give away a dose to potential consumers to make them "fall in love" and then start selling them the drug. As of September 2018, the police's Unit Against Internal Consumption Trafficking had seized 2180 grams of ecstasy nationwide. In 2016, they seized 11.90 grams. Ecuador also reported seizures of P-2-P (200 liters) in 2011. Ketamine is first known to have appeared in Ecuador in 2011. A Colombian organization was found to be filling action figures with ketamine pills for shipment to Ecuador and other countries. Synthetic drug production and consumption is a growing concern for Ecuadorian authorities, and the government has made arrests of groups involved in synthetic drug trafficking. In August 2018, a shipment of 995 grams of amphetamines, or "ice glass," was seized by the National Anti-Narcotics Directorate in Guayaquil. This was the first case of this substance reported in Guayaquil.

According to investigations, the amphetamines come from Colombia. The price of each dose is USD 20 in Ecuador, while in the United States it is USD 2500. The police operation left one person arrested, whose function was to transport the alkaloid. In February 2019, two Venezuelans in possession of 301 amphetamine tablets of different colors, with a net weight of 23.5 grams, in addition to 2475 grids of LSD, were captured while en route to Guayaquil. The following data has been collected from newspapers and from the OAS Report on Drug Consumption in the Americas 2019: Synthetic drug use is more common in high school and university students; less than 0.1 % of the population has used ecstasy at least once (2014); 15 % of respondents think it is easy to have access to ecstasy (2014); more than 67 % of the population believes that ecstasy use is dangerous (2014); it is difficult to measure methamphetamine use in the country; however, the prevalence of use in university students is 0.2 %. In addition, in Ecuador, a dose of LSD can cost between USD 25 and USD 30. A dose of amphetamines can cost US$2.14. An ecstasy pill can cost between US$15 and US$20. In the United States, it costs USD 2,500.


Mafia-type groups (7.5)

Interpretation: The type of criminal actor has a negative influence on broad sectors of society and/or state structures and its influence is expanding.

Definition. Refers to organized and clearly defined criminal groups. This typology also includes militias and guerrilla groups that are financed primarily through illicit activities. There are four defining characteristics of a mafia-type group: a known name, a defined leadership, territorial control and an identifiable composition.

In an operation in Guayaquil, this banner showing the union of four major criminal networks was found. Photo: El Universo

Local mafia groups have more moderate memberships than international organizations and are considered the "operating arms" of the mafia

Ecuador's most powerful mafia groups have traditionally acted in collaboration with foreign mafias, especially from neighboring Colombia and Mexico. Among the main ones are the Choneros (considered one of the most dangerous groups, with 300 members led by Jorge Luis Zambrano), Gorras (led by Geovanny Francisco Mantilla Cevallos), the Latin Kings, the Meza, the Cubanos, Banda JR, Rey Zamora, Colón Pico, Banda Pepe, Chocho, Ñoco, Loco Bryan, El Caldero, Comandante, Ñetas, Banda del chino Bruno and Vatos Locos.

Other mafia groups include the Vernaza (whose leader is Cesar Vernaza, alias "El Empresario"), El Látigo, the Gorras and Sayayín (led by John Q, alias "Sayayín"). Another prominent leader of a powerful and violent mafia group is Washington Prado, alias "Gerard," also known as the "Ecuadorian Pablo Escobar," who was arrested in 2017, accused of shipping at least 350 metric tons of cocaine to the United States.

Local mafia groups have more moderate memberships than international organizations and are largely considered the "operating arms" of Colombian and Mexican organizations, which facilitate transportation. However, they are also involved in other criminal activities, such as murder, extortion (in prison settings and in connection with illegal mines), kidnapping, illegal mining and money laundering.

Ecuadorian mafias do not control territories and are mainly located in the slums of the main cities, where the police have access, although some of these "mega-gangs" have control of the prison system, where they use high levels of violence.

Another type of mafia groups in Ecuador are gangs, although they have declined in the last decade, in part thanks to government policies aimed at increasing social inclusion, innovative approaches to criminal justice (including the legalization of several of these groups) and police reform. The government claims that the success of these policies is reflected in the decrease in homicides from 15.35 per 100 000 in 2011 to 5 per 100 000 in 2017.

Criminal networks  (5.5)

Interpretation: The type of criminal actor has influence in some sectors of society and/or state structures and its influence is expanding.

Definition: Refers to an informal network of associated criminals engaged in criminal activities. Also included are relatively small groups that do not control territory, or are not widely known by name or do not have a known leader. Criminal networks are engaged in the illicit trafficking of goods, but do not have territorial control or any of the other characteristics that define Mafia-type groups. In essence, criminal networks and criminal entrepreneurs are defined by not meeting the defining characteristics of mafia-type groups.

14 criminal networks violently fight for the drug trafficking market in Guayaquil

A number of loosely structured criminal networks operate throughout Ecuador, mainly around criminal markets such as drug and human trafficking, human smuggling, illegal mining and others, often in coordination with international organizations.

These networks operate mostly at the provincial or city level, with 14 of them violently contesting the drug trafficking market in Guayaquil. Between 2018 and 2019, 92 organizations were dismantled in La Merced de Buenos Aires, and dozens more are reported to be present in the Esmeraldas and Sucumbios regions, close to Colombia.

Some of these groups are also believed to operate from within the prison system, using violence, including extortion and murder.

In 2019, President Lenín Moreno accused former President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of using criminal networks in national protests to destabilize his government.

State integrated actors (7.5)

Interpretation: The type of criminal actor has a negative influence on broad sectors of society and/or state structures and its influence is expanding.

Definition. Refers to criminal actors that are integrated into and act from within the state apparatus.

Weak or corrupt security forces are also often complicit in serious crimes

Corruption in Ecuador is endemic, with state actors facilitating criminal markets for drug trafficking and illegal gold smuggling. This ranges from police and military who let drug shipments pass through their checkpoints, provide security, transport cocaine in official vehicles and allegedly carry out assassinations; as well as judges and prosecutors who allegedly receive bribes in exchange for impunity and politicians who receive payments for favors.

Some criminal networks use military weapons, ammunition and explosives obtained through corrupt officials. The case of a military network that sold weapons to the Colombian guerrilla group Oliver Sinisterra, the arrest of two members of the Air Force for transporting a metric ton of cocaine at the Ecuadorian military base in Manta, the arrest of seven military personnel and six civilians for allegedly tampering with the Armed Forces' inventory system and trafficking ammunition to the FOS drug trafficking group, and allegations that the Moreno administration awarded contracts linked to the Andean drug cartel, demonstrate that corruption is entrenched among officials at all levels.

Weak or corrupt security forces are also often complicit in serious crimes, which has led to a loss of public confidence in the Ecuadorian state's ability to control the territory and protect its citizens. This is reflected in the growing tension between political actors within the government and in general criticism of the current president. In addition, almost half of the 1,000 police officers, including high-ranking ones, dismissed between 2013 and 2017, were accused of criminal behavior ranging from bribery to extortion, facilitating drug trafficking and transporting drugs in police vehicles.

During Rafael Correa's presidency, a complete state reform (including police and military) was carried out to curb corruption and renew infrastructure and equipment, although the former president and his vice president are being accused of corruption during their 2013 election campaign.

Foreign actors  (8.0)

Interpretation: The type of criminal actor has a negative influence on almost all sectors of society and/or state structures.

Definition. Refers to state and/or non-state criminal actors operating outside their country of origin. This may include not only foreigners, but also various diaspora groups that have put down roots in the country over several generations.

There is an increasing presence of members of organized crime groups from the Balkan countries

Alias Guacho, who led an armed group that controlled drug trafficking in northern Esmeraldas and southern Colombia.

Ecuador has long been home to several international criminal organizations, primarily from Colombia (dissident factions of the largely demobilized FARC, the ELN, the Oliver Sinisterra Front, the Rastrojos, the Gulf Clan, the Urabeños, La Constru and the Contadores), but also from Mexico (the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas, the Familia Michoacana, the Gulf Cartel, the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation and the Durandeños). These organizations have control of cocaine trafficking routes, and operate with the help of local criminal groups and even law enforcement and other actors within the state at all levels.

The situation on Ecuador's border should have improved with the signing of Colombia's peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016, but instead the emergence of new groups in Colombia has only caused the threat to mutate. Colombian groups have taken control of a significant portion of Ecuadorian trafficking routes, including maritime routes along the Pacific coast, where the state has little control. For example, the "Oliver Sinisterra Front" is believed to have some 400 members and has carried out attacks, kidnappings and assassinations of journalists, military personnel and private citizens along Ecuador's northern border with Colombia. The ELN is also reported to be particularly active around mines and in the border region with Peru (for timber and illegal mining).

In addition, there is an increasing presence of members of organized crime groups from the Balkan countries (mainly involved in drug trafficking through their links with other Latin American organizations), and from China (mainly involved in human trafficking).

Translated by Manuel Novik


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