Is Ecuador South America’s Next Narco State?

When I visited Ecuador about 10 years ago it was a tranquil country that amongst other things was promoting itself as an ideal location for Americans and other foreigners to retire to due to it’s affordable and high standard of living. Also, Ecuador was a very safe country, especially when compared to most American cities. But in the last few years something has changed and it’s something that’s not in the best interests for the law-abiding Ecuadorians, the foreign visitors, and the expatriates.

In February this year in the city of Durán, close to Guayaquil, the bodies of two executed drug traffickers were left hanging from a bridge. Apparently, they were killed as the drugs gangs in Guayaquil are fighting over trafficking routes and shipments that have been sized by authorities in the port. There have been over 160 reported homicides in and Guayaquil and Durán this year already and I expect many other victims of these disputes between the drugs gangs have simply disappeared…  

Such things as beheading and torture corpses, which are common in violence plagued places such as the disputed areas of Mexico are also becoming common in Ecuador. And the criminals are not just killing each other, the murders of police officers is also on the rise. In 2020 five cops were killed, thirteen were killed in 2021 and its reported seven have been killed already in 2022. When the Narcos start to fight then the murders of police officers always increase. The good cops die for doing the right thing and the corrupt cops die because they chose the wrong side or betrayed those paying them for favors.

So why have the narco wars finally come to Ecuador and what does this mean for the future of the country? The answers are obvious for those that want to see them but generally people, especially politicians, don’t want to admit to the truth. Such people would sooner look the other way and blame others for problems which are their responsibility to solve.

Trying find reliable figures on the amount of money involved globally in the illegal drugs trade is hard to find due to nature of the business and profits being laundered and washed in many, many imaginative ways. The Washington, DC-based think tank “Global Financial Integrity” estimates the global illicit drug market was worth between US$426 and US$652 billion in 2014 alone. And since 2014 the production and distribution of illicit drugs has increased due to advance in technology and the strengthen of international alliances between criminal organizations.

One of the main truths about the illicit drug business is that in many counties, especially the end users for the South American cocaine, is that their economies are dependent on the drugs and have no real desire to stop them from flowing. In simple terms the source of narco terrorism and violence in Latin America is Americas and Europe’s addiction to drugs. If you take illegal narcotics out of the US economy alone then how many jobs will be lost for police officer’s, prison staff, criminal defense lawyers and rehab workers, just to start with and how would this affect the US economy?  

Even though law enforcement agencies from the US and Europe claim to want to eradicate the illegal drugs trade, the real truth is they don’t because their budgets and jobs depend on it. And also, what would the reactions be from the party people that are the end users for the cocaine? Would they be happy if their governments cut off their party drugs? Doing such things would lose Politician’s votes and police officers their jobs…

Do you think any of these people in the US or Europe realize or care how much blood is spilled and how many people are killed in Latin America so they can get high, or live comfortable directly or indirectly off the profits from the drugs trade? I will say if they do realize then they obviously don’t care. So, if Latin Americans are really interested in ending the issues of narco terrorism and violence, then it will have to be done at local and national levels because the international community, for all their talk, could not care less!

For many years Ecuador has avoided the worse of the drugs wars and violence that has plagued other Latin American countries. Reportedly the drugs trade in Ecuador was always controlled by the Choneros Cartel but in recent years, with new players arriving on the scenes their power is being contested. The old order is being challenged and the challengers appear to be very powerful and experience players in the narco and transnational criminal worlds.

The influence of the Mexican drugs cartels has grown immensely over the past decade and as they spread their money and influence, they also spread their barbaric and extreme violence. It’s reported that the Choneros Cartel were aligned with Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, and now the Sinaloa Cartel’s rival, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) is making strategic alliances within Ecuador with those looking to control the Choneros drugs routes and diminish their influence.

For the Mexican Cartels and others Ecuador is providing them with maritime ports and staging points that are not so heavily scrutinized and controlled by both law enforcement agencies and other criminals as in say Colombia. I am also sure trafficking directly from Ecuador also saves the Mexican Cartels money as they do not have to pay the additional taxes which they need pay to their criminal associates in Colombia and Venezuela.

The situation in Venezuela over the last few years has also led to their gang members spreading throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The Venezuelan crime wave brings murder and mayhem wherever it goes. These young Venezuelan gangsters are all out to make money, a reputation and usually maintain strong ties to their associates who are still in Venezuela.

Within Venezuela itself the trafficking business whether is drugs, gold or humans is tightly controlled by the Muduro regime and its intelligence, military, and police agencies. So, Ecuador for the Venezuelan gangsters is a fresh marketplace where they are free to cause chaos and make money without the fear of having to deal with the consequences of upsetting members of Muduro’s criminal empire.

Another group of criminals who have taken advantage of Ecuador’s open immigration policies are members of the Albanian Mafias. These European gangsters are known to be involved in a wide array of crimes ranging from drug & human trafficking, prostitution, and even the harvesting of human organs. It is believed there are over 3000 Albanians currently living in Ecuador.

In the last few years three Albanians with known criminal connections have been assassinated in Ecuador. The last was a Ergys Dashi who was 34-year-old was gunned down in a restaurant in Guayaquil in January this year. Dashi was known to have been involved in the trafficking drugs from Latin America to Europe. According to European reports Dashi had a criminal record in Italy for drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, possession of weapons and was a known gang member. He was not apparently on the police radar in Ecuador.

Drug trafficking gangs from Albania and the Balkans have made close alliances with their counterparts in Latin America and act as liaison for the transatlantic drug shipments. Ecuador has attracted these criminals to set up there partly due to its open immigration system. Criminals from Europe can enter and establish themselves in Ecuador with little if any scrutiny. For such criminals who have close ties with government agencies in their own and other countries getting such things as fake or doctored passports in different names is relatively easy. The wanted mafia hit man in Europe could be, on the surface at least, the apparent model citizen in Ecuador.

The other reason I see for these criminals being attracted to Ecuador is because of the lack of an established order. As I said earlier in Venezuela the Muduro regime has tight control of the criminal world and in Colombia the established Cartels will not allow outsiders to take a piece of their market. Also, in Colombia the military and police are ever vigilant and very experience at dealing with young gangsters seeking to make quick money or foreigners turning up and mysteriously making and banking large amounts of money.

Maybe Ecuador’s luck in the past of avoiding the drug wars and violence has left it unprepared and vulnerable to these transnational criminals who are constantly looking to exploit other’s weaknesses. You must always remember that if you leave your door open for strangers then you will get those that will appreciate your hospitality, but you will also attract those who abuse your kindness, steal all you have, rape and murder your family, and then burn your house down.

At a basic level to avoid future bloodshed and chaos Ecuador seriously needs to reexamine it’s open immigration policy and start to actively target the criminals, who are seeking to turn the country into another dysfunctional criminal state such as Venezuela or a replica of the disputed blood soaked badlands of Mexico. I sure for some there would be big money if Ecuador became a narco state, but I would prefer to think of the country as a place where people can retire to and safely grow old in.

Orlando W.

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