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30 de Agosto del 2021
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Lectura: 12 minutos
30 de Agosto del 2021
Redacción Plan V
The story behind the largest cocaine seizure in Ecuador
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Police found 9.6 tons of cocaine in a warehouse in Guayaquil, Ecuador, which had the facade of a water bottling plant. Photos: Ecuador Police

Police are still investigating to which organization the 9.6 tons of cocaine found in a warehouse in Guayaquil belonged, but have advanced that its destination was Mexico or the United States. The place had the name of a Mexican water bottling company. In a previous operation, drugs had already been found in one of the trucks that had as a front the delivery of bottled water.


A white truck with the façade of a water delivery truck was the first clue that led to the seizure of the largest cocaine shipment ever found in Ecuador. Last July 23, three men were driving in that vehicle in the Los Vergeles sector, in Guayaquil, but when they saw the police presence they tried to escape. The police pursued them until the truck entered a warehouse. The agents had already received confidential information that the truck was being used to transport drugs and was being guarded by a black car.

After an operation, the uniformed officers found 513 kilos of cocaine in 10 jute sacks in the truck's box. The packages were labeled with the words 'La reina', 'amor' or with a heart with wings. Four men and one woman were arrested. It was she who opened the door of the property for the quick entry of the truck. At the entrance was the name of the business: 'Agua purificada La Burbuja', which was printed on light blue paper and taped to a white gate.


The drugs were packed in 167 jute sacks, each containing 60 bricks surrounded by packing tape.

This company has no records in the Superintendence of Companies, but when searching on the Internet it matches the name of a Mexican company. The prosecuted woman has a RUC whose economic activity is the production of sparkling waters and other bottled waters.

In the warehouse, the agents also found two metal detectors, a signal inhibitor and two communication radios. The Public Prosecutor's Office requested that the five people involved be remanded in custody and the judge accepted the request.

After this operation, not only did the investigations into the criminal group continue, but also into the business. The warehouse with the façade of a water bottling company continued to operate. Last Friday, August 13, the police raided the same warehouse again. A total of 9,470 brick-type blocks were found inside, covered with adhesive tape, most of them inside 157 jute sacks. That is equivalent to 9 tons 600 kilos of cocaine.

Según la Policía, el destino de la cocaína era México o EEUU y podría haber salido por los puertos o por pistas clandestinas.

Police Commander, General Tannya Varela, explained - in a press conference held at the same building on Friday night - that now the operations have also focused on the search for drug storage sites, and not only on seizures at ports and borders.

Varela said that after the July operation, and together with the Attorney General's Office, they analyzed the information recorded by closed-circuit surveillance that exists in this sector and determined that in the back of the offices and the sale of bottles of water there was another office with a false wall where the drugs were stored. This illegal international merchandise has a value of 450 million dollars.

The police broke the false wall made of concrete and steel mesh, according to a video that the police circulated on their networks. For the press conference, the 157 packages were placed in a courtyard and the attendees even climbed over them to move from one point to another of the place.

The cargo was destined for Mexico or the United States. The drugs were possibly going to be transported through the ports or through clandestine routes. The Commander announced that the Police will make a new review of the coastal profile to identify these tracks, especially in Salinas. Who did the drugs belong to? This information is still being investigated by the Police, mentioned the Commander.

The Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela, described this seizure as historic. It is the largest seizure of cocaine hydrochloride made in the Ecuadorian mainland. Other substances such as marijuana have been seized in larger seizures, said the National Antinarcotics Directorate.


The warehouse also contained large-caliber weaponry. One of the types of ammunition found there can start engines, according to the police.

The property also contained large caliber weapons. There was a total of 2,883 ammunition of 9 mm, 223 mm, 7.62x39 mm and 7.62x51 calibers. With the latter, an engine can be broken, Varela said. The warehouse also contained seven long rifle-type weapons, one of them with a telescopic sight, a submachine gun, two pistols and an adapter to convert a pistol into a submachine gun, with its own telescopic sight and laser pointer. In this operation the police seized another truck.

Varela said the ammunition and rifles were of high caliber. "The organizations we are confronting are high-powered," he added. The weapons were to be used to guard the shipment until its point of exit from the country. "They are narco-criminal organizations of a different nature," he said.  It was only after this operation that the warehouse was shut down.


Evidence and detainees of the operation Gran Impacto 81, which was executed on Friday, August 13, 2021.

Some detainees and their run-ins with the law

In 2011, a 24-year-old man from La Flor de Bastión was arrested after, according to the police, he threw a gun during his attempt to flee from uniformed officers. He was sentenced to one year of correctional imprisonment. He, who identified himself at the time as a water delivery man, was one of the two arrested in last Friday's operation when the largest cocaine shipment ever recorded in the country was found. He is Alvaro A.M., who together with Marwin R.L. was accused of illicit drug and arms trafficking.

Among the five arrested in July, two have previous problems with the law. One of them is Víctor F.N., who also has a criminal record. In 2015, he was apprehended for the theft of a cell phone.

Eddy R.C. is another of those involved. He is the only one of the defendants who has been previously arrested for drug trafficking, but later found not guilty. This occurred in July 2019 when in the vehicle where he was traveling, the Police found 20 grams of cocaine. His defense presented tests that would have shown his chronic addiction to this substance and alleged that this drug was in the car that belonged to another owner. The Prosecutor's Office refrained from charging him.

The evidence and the detainees from operation Gran Impacto 79, on July 23, 2021, when the first cocaine discovery was made.

Varela said that the detainees correspond to operational commanders and assured that they are working to find the middle and high commanders of these organizations.

During the flagrancy hearing, the destruction of the evidence, both drugs and weapons, was ordered, and the Anti-Narcotics Unit and Zone 8 Command were notified on the same day. 

A booming business in Ecuador

According to investigations, the drugs found in Guayaquil come from Colombia, through the San Lorenzo (Esmeraldas) and Tulcan (Carchi) crossings. PlanV's report Ecuador: Radiography of Organized Crime and its Actors explains that almost 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.

But internally, there is a parallel growing phenomenon: drug processing laboratories. Between August this year and October 2020 alone, at least six large and medium-capacity laboratories have been dismantled in Ecuadorian territory.

GIVEN THE LACK OF RESOURCES, OFFICIALS ARE ONLY ABLE TO REGISTER ABOUT 3% OF SHIPMENTS LEAVING THE PORTS, CREATING IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR CRIMINAL NETWORKS TO DELIVER THEIR GOODS.

The most recent one occurred last August 7. The Armed Forces reported the location of a drug laboratory in the province of Sucumbios. The 19th 'Napo' jungle brigade made the discovery during a surveillance operation in the sector of the Sin Pena ravine, parish of Santa Rosa. It was a crystallization plant of approximately 500 square meters that was presumably used to produce 2.5 tons of cocaine hydrochloride per week. The laboratory was divided into five areas: a machine area, a packaging area, a fuel and acetone storage area, a sleeping area for 15 people, a kitchen and an electricity generation area.

In the place, the Army also found 1 light generator, seven refining tanks, 10 water pumps, an industrial kitchen, 16 microwaves, acetone, gasoline and diesel tanks, among other materials for drug processing.


Images of a drug laboratory found by the Army on the border with Colombia, Sucumbios province. It could process up to 2.5 tons of cocaine hydrochloride per week. Photo: FFAA

On May 11, a drug laboratory was found in Tobar Donoso, which is located on the border between Carchi and Esmeraldas. It was on the banks of the San Juan river. This place could produce up to three tons of drugs per month. This infrastructure allegedly belonged to a member of Colombia's Oliver Sinisterra dissident group, authorities said.

On March 4, the military destroyed another laboratory on the banks of the Mataje river, in San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas. It was located in a place of difficult access and in Awá indigenous territory, specifically between the rural communities Labores Agrícolas and Vaya Viendo. Like the rest, it had places intended for resting, but these had quick exits to the river.

THE LABORATORY WAS DIVIDED INTO FIVE AREAS: ONE FOR MACHINES, ONE FOR PACKAGING, ONE FOR THE FUEL AND ACETONE TANK, AND ONE AREA THAT SERVED AS A DORMITORY FOR 15 PEOPLE.

On March 4, also in Santa Rosa (Sucumbios), the Army dismantled another laboratory. It had a recent coca plantation of approximately one and a half hectares, with 10,000 plants between 15 and 30 cm in length. The infrastructure was on the banks of the San Miguel River.

On October 3, 2020, a laboratory with a capacity to process 4 tons of drugs was found in San Marco, Chical area, in the province of Carchi. It had resting, dining and kitchen areas, in addition to 40 microwave ovens.

Last October, also in Tobar Donoso, there was a binational operation to destroy a giant camp capable of processing up to four tons of drugs per month. The infrastructure belonged to the Oliver Sinisterra group. Those operating there fled through the jungle and therefore no one was arrested, according to the police. Three Army Super Puma helicopters were used in the raid.

GALERÍA
The story behind the largest cocaine seizure in Ecuador
 


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