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Is Ecuador prepared to counter rise in organized crime?

Ecuador has been described as the 'United Nations of organized crime,' but authorities may underestimate the repercussions, writes guest blogger Elyssa Pachico.

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But the northern border region is just one part of the problem. Along the country's coasts, trafficking gangs are increasingly reliant on semi-submersibles to transport cocaine. Police found a 12-acre poppy field in central Ecuador in December, a highly unusual discovery in a country that is generally free of illicit drug crops. In Quito, Colombian gangs have been accused of controlling much of the local drug trade. One US drug official described Ecuador as the "United Nations" of organized crime, due to the number of transnational criminal groups (including Russian and Chinese) that have set up shop here.

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Mexican groups in particular have a growing foothold in Ecuador. In February, police arrested a man described as the main link between the Sinaloa Cartel and Colombian drug trafficker Daniel Barrera, alias "El Loco." Authorities arrested nine operatives who allegedly worked for the Mexican group in Ecuador last year; the investigation also led to the arrest of a top Sinaloa Cartel lieutenant, Victor Felix, in Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel reportedly has two armed cells working along Ecuador's southern border. According to the US State Department, the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, and Colombian rebel group the FARC all move cocaine through Ecuador.

If the security forces have in fact warned that organized crime could spill out of control unless measures are taken, this suggests that the situation is becoming critical. If authorities do not meet the challenge, it may yet turn into a national crisis.

– Elyssa Pachico is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region find all of her research here.

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