Photo: Human Rights Watch


MORELIA, Michoacán —  The evolution of Mexico’s cartels over the last decades has been exponential and incredibly abrupt. Despite much-touted government efforts to dismantle and eradicate these criminal groups since the beginning of the drug war in 2006, these criminal organizations have managed not only to survive, but to thrive, strengthening and strategically expanding beyond the country’s borders.

Although their original expansion plans focused mainly on neighboring countries such as the United States and Guatemala, these criminal groups have managed to ally themselves with other local organizations to control new smuggling routes on the continent. Such is the case of Ecuador, which has been lately in news headlines due to the unprecedented series of violent events involving local criminal groups linked to Mexican cartels.

Despite the fact that this situation began to take shape a couple of years ago, it was only at the beginning of this year that the early displays of drug violence were first seen in the South American country when a dozen thugs with high-caliber weapons massacred a group of men who were playing soccer on a field south of Guayaquil, leaving six dead at the scene.

From that moment on, violence in Ecuador began to escalate to unimaginable levels, especially in the provinces that lead to the Pacific Ocean such as Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas, Santo Domingo, Santa Elena, Los Ríos and El Oro, where the rate of violent deaths has tripled in the last 12 months, accounting for 90 percent of crimes across that South American country.

Another event that marked a milestone in the series of violent events seen in Ecuador took place in February of this year, when two bodies were found hanging from a pedestrian bridge in the outskirts of the city of Durán, in the province of Guayas. According to the local authorities, this was the result of a recent operation by the local police where eight tons of cocaine were seized and numerous people were arrested.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has acknowledged the security problems that his country is facing, and although he says that his administration will not hesitate to enforce the law against the criminal groups that are generating all this climate of violence, the number of incidences continues to climb and things seem to be getting out of control as, day-after-day, criminal organizations continue to gain ground.

Since the end of October, the incidence of violent events in Ecuador has increased considerably, especially after the transfer of some 1,000 inmates from the Litorial Penitentiary to two other prisons in the country. According to investigations by Ecuador’s National Police, the criminal groups that operated within this prison known as Los Lobos and Los Tiguerones rebelled against this massive transfer, unleashing a wave of attacks with explosives and shootings against the police.

This series of violent events brought to light the close link that exists between these Ecuadorian criminal groups and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) from Mexico. However, this is not the first time that an alliance between the Mexican cartels and criminal gangs in Ecuador has been disclosed. According to official reports, since the year 2000, the Sinaloa Cartel had already extended its operations to Ecuador, establishing a relationship business with Los Choneros, an Ecuadorian criminal group that emerged in the 1990s.


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