NewsThis is how drug trafficking acts in Ecuador

    This is how drug trafficking acts in Ecuador

    Some men walk through a lush plantation between Ecuador’s peaceful Pacific coast and its majestic Andes, pruning hundreds of green banana branches from enormous trees twice their height.

    Workers take the bunches to a production line where washes, weighs and labels to bananas for European buyers. The owner, Franklin Torres, closely follows the activities on a recent morning to ensure that the fruits meet international aesthetic standards. And more importantly, so that the bananas are packaged for shipment cocaine free.

    Torres is more alert than ever because Ecuador finds itself increasingly at the convergence of two global trades: bananas and cocaine.

    The South American nation It is the largest exporter of bananas worldwide, sending around 6.5 million tons per year by sea. It is also among the main cocaine producers in the world, Peru and Colombiaand drug traffickers have found containers full of bananas the perfect vehicle to smuggle their product.

    The perfect vehicle

    The infiltration of drug traffickers into the industry responsible for about 30% of the world’s bananas has contributed to an unprecedented wave of violence in what was once a peaceful nation. Shootings, homicides, kidnpings and extortions have become part of daily life, especially in the port city of Guayaquil, a banana center in the Pacific.

    Ecuador finds itself increasingly at the convergence of two global trades: bananas and cocaine. Photo: Bloomberg

    “Everyone has responsibility. The one who transports it, the one who buys it, the one who consumes it,” said seller Dalia Chang, a 59-year-old resident of Guayaquil, referring to cocaine smuggling. “Everyone has their part. They have destroyed our country”.

    The country, which is not a major cocaine producer, was particularly shaken when a presidential candidate known for his tough stance against organized crime and corruption — Fernando Villavicencio — was shot to death at the end of a campaign event on June 9. of August.

    Days before his murder, Villavicencio had accused the Ecuadorian criminal group of The Choneroswhom he linked with Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico, to threaten him and his campaign team.

    The dollar as currency, an attraction for drug traffickers

    Authorities point out that Ecuador also gained importance in the global cocaine trade after the political changes that have occurred in Colombia in the last decade. Coca fields in Colombia They have been moving closer to the border with Ecuador due to the dismantling of criminal groups after the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2019.

    A worker harvests bananas on a plantation in Milagro, Ecuador.  Photo: BloombergA worker harvests bananas on a plantation in Milagro, Ecuador. Photo: Bloomberg

    In 2021, a record amount of 2,304 tons of cocaine was produced worldwide, most of them in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. That year, almost a third of the cocaine seized by customs authorities in western and central Europe came from Ecuadordouble the amount reported in 2018, according to a United Nations study with data from the World Customs Organization.

    The seizure of large shipments of narcotics has become more frequent, and in the last month European authorities have seized record numbers after inspect shipments of bananas coming from Ecuador.

    On August 25, the Spanish authorities announced largest cocaine seizure to date: 9.5 tons hidden between boxes of Ecuadorian bananas in a refrigerated container.

    Europe seized record numbers of cocaine after inspecting shipments of bananas from Ecuador.  Photo: BloombergEurope seized record numbers of cocaine after inspecting shipments of bananas from Ecuador. Photo: Bloomberg

    The Netherlands also carried out the largest cocaine seizure in the country’s history last month — almost 8 tons — in a container of Ecuadorian bananas. Authorities in Greece and Italy also announced they had seized cocaine hidden in shipments of bananas from Ecuador so far this year.

    The drug route

    The bananas that are sent to Europe are packaged in the plantations, placed in trucks that take them to huge warehouses in the Guayaquil area and transferred to maritime containers heading to the port area.

    Then the ship leaves for northeast towards the Panama Canal, It reaches the Caribbean Sea and crosses the Atlantic.

    The bananas that are sent to Europe are packaged on the plantations.  Photo: BloombergThe bananas that are sent to Europe are packaged on the plantations. Photo: Bloomberg

    Some traffickers have created front companies who pretend to be legitimate banana exporters, while others have acquired legitimate businesses, including plantations. They have found companies willing to be accomplices in the transfer of cocaine. They have also bribed, threatened or kidnped to transporters and other workers to help cocaine reach shipments.

    Other traffickers have corrupted or intimidated police officerscustoms agents, security guards and port workers to collaborate or ignore the handling of containers in ports.

    Deaths and living in fear

    Drug trafficking has contributed to the number of violent deaths in Ecuador, which have doubled from 2021 to 2022, when 4,600 people lost their lives, the highest figure recorded in a year. The country is set to break the record again, with 3,568 violent deaths recorded in the first half of 2023.

    Police guard the area of ​​a crime in Duran, Ecuador.  Photo: APPolice guard the area of ​​a crime in Duran, Ecuador. Photo: AP

    In Guayaquil, where maritime containers are part of the landsce, people live in fear in this days. Passersby don’t dare take their phones out of their pockets. Convenience stores have floor-to-ceiling metal bars to prevent customers from entering from the street. The restaurants that survived the pandemic They close early.

    As well as the increase in the number of homicides, the amount of cocaine seized in the country’s ports has also increased to reach 77.4 tons last year. The figure is three times greater to the amount confiscated in 2020.

    National Police General Pablo Ramirez, Ecuador’s national director of anti-drug investigations, attributed the change to the increase in smugglingnot to better security.

    Police data also shows that of last year’s total, a record number of 47.5 tons of cocaine were found in shipments of bananas, despite the fact that banana exports decreased by 6.4% compared to 2021.

    Cocaine seized in Rotterdam, coming from Ecuador.  Photo: APCocaine seized in Rotterdam, coming from Ecuador. Photo: AP

    Ramirez said he anticipates all ports will have scanners in operation by mid-2024. He said two ports have piloted the use of scanners to ease the transition of internal processes and train staff who will work with the machines.

    The operator of the largest port in Guayaquil, Contecon Guayaquil SA., declined requests to give an interview and access to the port to The Associated Press to see existing security procedures.

    In response to written questions about the measures, spokesperson Alexandra Pacheco said in a statement that the operator reached an agreement with the National Police in 2022 to, among other things, “reinforce operations at the port.” She added that the operator plans to invest about $15 million in the scanners.

    The most exposed industry

    Jose Hidalgo, executive director of the Ecuadorian Banana Exporters Association, said the industry faces greater exposure to drug trafficking than the export of any other commodity due to the volume of containers it uses.

    ““It is because of bananas that there are so many ports,” said Hidalgo. “It opens routes to other export products.”

    A worker covers a bunch of bananas on a plantation in Ecuador.  Photo: BloombergA worker covers a bunch of bananas on a plantation in Ecuador. Photo: Bloomberg

    He explained that exporters invest around 100 million dollars a year in security measuresincluding surveillance cameras in the plantations, GPS monitoring on trucks and the identification of land routes that require police escort.

    Complicit exporters

    However, some exporters They have been accused of being accomplices or being directly involved in cocaine trafficking.

    Torres, the owner of the plantation, would like these types of exporters to be expelled from the industry. But there are no regulations that can be used to revoke a company’s banana export permit when it has been repeatedly linked to drug trafficking.

    “It bothers me a lot,” Torres commented. “My people work bananas, they don’t work drugs. It is a flagship product, the best in the world, and to see it stained like that.” It is unfortunate”.

    With information from Regina Garcia Cano, Associated Press

    Source: Clarin

    This post is posted by Awutar staff members. Awutar is a global multimedia website. Our Email: [email protected]


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    9 + eight =

    Subscribe & Get Latest News