Crime & Justice

Guayaquil, a hub for tons of cocaine exported from Ecuador

By Cristina Bazán

Guayaquil, Ecuador, Aug 3 (EFE).- Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city and its main port, has become a hub for drug traffickers exporting tons of cocaine to Europe and the United States.

But amid increasing police checks and seizures, criminal gangs are getting creative by hiding tons of the drug inside food containers, cereal boxes, scrap metal, tea bottles and even in fake fruit like bananas and pineapples.

So far in 2022, Ecuadorian anti-narcotics police have seized 112 tons of drugs across the country, half of which were seized in Guayaquil — where over 85% of Ecuador’s non-oil export cargo is moved.

“It is a strategic point for the criminal organizations as they want to take advantage of container shipments to make illegal exports,” head of the anti-narcotics police in Guayaquil, Lieutenant Colonel Darwin Sangoquiza, tells Efe.

According to Sangoquiza, some 500 containers are exported from the port daily.

“The more corrupted containers that are sent, the better it is for them,” he says.

The most common method used by criminal gangs is the so-called “blind-hook” technique, where the drug is placed in a legal or empty cargo container and then extracted at the port of destination, the colonel lieutenant explains.

Another technique drug smugglers are using is setting up fictitious companies that carry out several legal operations before turning to illegal drug trafficking.

The criminal organizations are also helped by corrupt port staff, who sometimes place the drugs inside containers after the police checks.

According to the latest United Nations World Drug Report, Ecuador ranks third in the world for most drugs seized and the port of Guayaquil the second largest departure point in the Pacific for cocaine shipments out of South America.

“The important fact is that Ecuador has stopped being a transit country and is now considered an export country, where money laundering is becoming a product of these illegal economies,” Ecuador’s interior minister Patricio Carrillo said.

In 2021, a record 210 tons of drugs were seized in Ecuador and anti-narcotics police have warned that the record will likely be broken this year.

According to Sangoquiza, anti-narcotics teams at the port are searching up to 40% of containers and the port, owned by private company Contecon, has invested over $15 million in technology to improve processes and scanning.

But despite an increase in seizures, a recent US State Department report said that Ecuadorian police lack the resources to effectively control transnational crime.

The increase of criminal gangs in Guayaquil has also made the city a more dangerous place, with 757 deaths recorded in the last decade, the majority related to drug trafficking.

The violence is most apparent in prisons, where since 2020 more than 400 prisoners have died in various massacres caused by clashes between criminal gangs, according to the Ecuadorian authorities.EFE


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