Sinaloa Drug Cartel Takes Root in Ecuador

By McCarton Ackerman 03/19/13

One of Mexico's most powerful drug gangs use Ecuador as a key trafficking hub.

A 2009 cocaine seizure in Quito, Ecuador.
Photo via

Mexico's notoriously powerful Sinaloa Cartel is reportedly taking root in Ecuador, using the nation as a transit hub for drugs headed north to the US and Europe. An estimated 110 metric tons of drugs are trafficked by air or sea through the country each year, which President Rafael Correa has attributed to the country’s geographic location. “The most serious security problem facing the country is a border that is hot with organized crime, drug trafficking, illegal groups and paramilitary organizations,” said Correa in mid-2012. The increased narco-trafficking has boosted Ecuador’s crime rate, which rose from 12.4 per 100,000 residents in 2012, the lowest it had been in a decade, to an all-time high of 18.74 in 2009, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Ecuadorian police have stepped up their efforts to stamp out the drug trade; in 2012, they seized 42.5 tons of narcotics with a street value of $1.205 billion and arrested 4,736 on drug-related charges, compared to the 26.09 tons of drugs seized and 4,258 arrests in 2011. Fifteen drug laboratories were also destroyed last year, up from 10 in 2011. But despite the increased efforts, Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán isn't the only drug lord who has tried to exploit Ecuador in recent years. Alleged Colombian narco-trafficker Henry de Jesús López Londoño tried to reside in Ecuador before being arrested last year, while police in Guayaquil also arrested last César Vernaza Quiñónez, the top enforcer of the Sinaloa cartel in Ecuador, last April. Ecuador's National Drug Prevention Plan for 2012-2013 focuses on several key areas including comprehensive reform of the country's drug laws, eradication of illegal crops and treatment and recovery of drug addicts.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.