Order Code RS20494
Updated February 8, 2001
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Ecuador: International Narcotics
Specialist in International Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Colombian drug traffickers and narco-linked insurgents have taken advantage of
easy access to Ecuador’s border areas for a number of years, primarily for rest and
recreation, and purchase of supplies. Concern has been voiced that U.S. supported
military operations against narco-trafficking/guerilla groups in Colombia could accelerate
guerilla encroachment into Ecuador. Increased presence of Colombian drug traffickers
and narco-linked insurgents could limit the effectiveness of U.S. anti-drug support to
Colombia and threaten the territorial integrity and stability of Ecuador. However,
another viewpoint, gaining increasing acceptance, is that the insurgents do not want to
start a new front of military activity in Ecuador anytime soon.
In light of these developments, and strong Administration and congressional interest
in a broader Andean oriented approach, it is likely there will be (1) enhanced policy focus
on Ecuador in a regional context; (2) enhanced intelligence focus on narcotrafficker/insurgent activity there; and (3) ongoing review of U.S. narcotics-related
assistance for the Quito Government. This report will be updated only if major important
Strategically situated between the major drug producing nations of Colombia and
Peru, Ecuador is increasingly becoming an important transhipment area for Colombian
cocaine and heroin. A fragile economy, lack of strong government controls, and lengthy
maritime and land borders provide an attractive, relatively open and unregulated
environment for drug trafficking, street crime, corruption and a growing presence of
Colombian narco-linked insurgents in the north. In Ecuador’s northern border regions,
poverty and lack of government presence and services in the region make inhabitants there
more willing to accept the income traffickers or insurgents may provide. Another factor
impacting stability in Ecuador is an ongoing national Indian uprising which resulted in the
government declaring a state of emergency on February 2, 2001.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
On November 12, 1999, the United States concluded a 10-year lease with the
Government of Ecuador for a narcotics monitoring “Forward Operating Location” (FOL)
based in Manta, a move likely to increase U.S. presence and strategic interest in this
economically fragile Andean nation.
Of special concern to the pro-environmental community are reports of the use of the
Galapagos Islands, an ecological preserve, as a drug transhipment area, and of rising use
and possible small scale cultivation of coca there.
Drug Trafficker Activity
The State Department’s FY2001 International Narcotics Congressional Budget
Presentation estimates that “Narcotics kingpins appear to be trafficking approximately 30
to 50 metric tons of cocaine per year through (Ecuador’s) loosely monitored ports and
road networks.” Cocaine is smuggled from Colombia on the Pan American Highway
(which bisects Ecuador from north to south) and then west to the major seaports of
Guayaquil, Esmeraldas and Manta, where it is co-mingled with commercial cargo and
shipped to the United States (often via Mexico) and to Europe. Cocaine is also shipped
by low profile fast-moving boats from Colombian ports to the port of Esmeraldas in
northern Ecuador. Law enforcement officials in the Galapagos Islands suggest that such
“go fast” boats increasingly penetrate the territorial waters of the Galapagos, where
mother ships lie in wait.1 Small quantities of heroin from Colombia are also smuggled by
couriers through Ecuador’s international airports of Quito and Guayaquil.
From Ecuador, precursor drug processing chemicals are smuggled north into
Colombia, as are small arms, dynamite, medicine, and other logistical items for use by
narco-traffickers/insurgents. From Peru, cocaine base is smuggled overland through
Ecuador via the Pan American Highway to Colombia for processing and eventual
reshipment to Ecuador for storage, consolidation, and transit to U.S. and European
Ecuador is not a major drug growing area, although limited cultivation of coca
occurs in the northeast near the Putumayo River region along the border with Colombia,
according to Ecuadorian military sources. The presence of Colombian guerrillas in the
region, however, makes it difficult to verify the extent of such cultivation. Cultivation of
marijuana in Ecuador does not reach commercial levels and opium poppy cultivation is
small scale. In response to a relatively recent phenomenon, members of Ecuador’s
environmental community and Ecuadorian Navy personnel based in the Galapagos Islands
Note that in 1999, law enforcement officials on the Galapagos, who express strong concern over
rising cocaine use on the islands, reportedly seized 32 kilograms of cocaine HCL. Cocaine
smuggling coupled with an escalating and highly lucrative trade in endangered species items such
as shark fins and sea cucumbers, if not curbed, could undermine the Island’s delicate ecological
balance. Given the importance the international environmental community attaches to the Islands,
reports of use of the Islands as a drug transhipment area and of rising use and small scale
cultivation of coca there could prompt further investigation and policy focus.
privately express concern over reports of small scale coca cultivation on the island of
Santa Cruz, although such reports are unconfirmed to date.
According to the Department of State’s Fiscal Year 2001 International Narcotics
Budget Congressional Presentation Document, illicit drugs are increasingly processed in
Ecuador. Data is incomplete, but DEA and Ecuadorian sources suspect that some cocaine
HCL processing takes place in Sucumbios Province near the Colombian border. A cocaine
base laboratory was recently seized in northeastern Ecuador, supporting the theory that
proximity of the area to Colombian coca fields and to a central smuggling route for
precursor chemicals, make the area attractive for cocaine processing laboratories.
Colombian Insurgent Activity
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are increasingly present
in Ecuador’s northeastern border region. Ecuadorian sources interviewed in December
1999 indicate regions exist near the Putumayo River border where FARC guerrillas
demand payment for safe transit. On September 11, 1999, eleven foreign and one U.S. oil
worker were kidnaped, reportedly by FARC insurgents, in northeastern Ecuador, later to
be released. As recently as February 6, 2001, a hostage situation was ongoing in the
region with one U.S. oil worker killed. Moreover, many Ecuadorians in this region
reportedly have strong ethnic and family ties to Colombia, with estimates of those of
Colombian descent ranging from 40% to as high as 75%. In this milieu, sympathy with the
FARC is considered to be high.
From the FARC perspective, Ecuador’s new counterdrug “alliance,” which allows
a U.S. base on its territory, could well change Ecuador’s perceived status from that of the
neutral neighbor, and laissez faire trading partner of major parties to the Colombian civil
war, to that of a menacing enemy. Two unresolved issues are: (1) the degree to which the
U.S. presence at Manta, coupled with more aggressive U.S. support for the Colombian
military’s counterdrug initiative, may eventually lead to FARC confrontation with
Ecuadorian military or civilian personnel, or even U.S. personnel or facilities; and (2) the
degree to which FARC attacks against Ecuadorian or U.S. interests could erode existing
levels of public support in Ecuador for the presence of the U.S. based facility in Manta.
In fact, some have questioned whether future developments in Ecuador could become an
Achilles’ heel of hemispheric regional support for the Administration’s Colombia
counterdrug initiative. To assist in curbing what appears to be a rising presence of FARC
narco-insurgents in Ecuador’s northern border region, Ecuadorian officials have requested
an additional $400 million in narcotics related military assistance over four years from the
U.S. (For background on the FARC and related policy issues see Colombia: Conditions
and U.S. Policy Options, CRS Report RL30330.)
DEA intelligence sources estimate “hundreds of millions” of dollars are laundered in
Ecuador annually – mostly from Colombia. Although hard evidence is lacking to link
reported Medellin-based investment in Ecuadorian port-connected businesses to drug
cartel activity, Ecuadorian counterdrug personnel are concerned that extensive investments
by Colombian firms may have more than legitimate profit-based motives. Weak legislation
and poor interagency cooperation provide a hospitable, relatively risk-free environment
for money laundering. Officials in the Galapagos Islands privately estimate that at least
$30 million from the endangered species and drug trade on the Islands were laundered in
1999 during a two month period alone.
Ecuadorian/U.S. Counternarcotics Programs
Ecuadorian counternarcotics law (Law No. 108) grants the 30,000-member
Ecuadorian National Police (ENP) primary responsibility for drug interdiction. Within this
force, a special national drug unit (NDU) (300 strong, but reinforced up to 700 for specific
operations) works narcotics issues. In areas where the police are not able to operate, this
responsibility falls to the navy/marines (approximately 7,500 strong) and army
(approximately 23,500 strong). As much of Ecuador’s border is accessible only by sea
or river traffic, a counterdrug responsibility disproportionate to force size falls to the navy.
Drug interdiction is also a secondary responsibility of customs personnel. These agencies
rarely cooperate on drug issues–each accusing others of corruption and ineffectiveness.
According to one view, levels of corruption are generally highest in the Customs
Service and ENP, with the exception of the ENP’s National Drug Unit, which is
considered to be untainted. The navy is generally well respected outside rival governmental
hierarchies. Critics of the army point out that military operations against
narcotraffickers/insurgents near the northeast border region are regularly compromised
by what appears to be advanced notice received by the traffickers. Aside from raising
potential issues of corruption, such a pattern of events brings into question the willingness
of army units to actually engage traffickers/insurgents. Both the army and the navy suffer
from chronic shortages in fuel and ammunition. Communications and air/ground
transportation equipment, as well as reconnaissance aircraft and patrol craft for riverine
operations and coastal interdiction, are in short supply as well.
U.S. counterdrug policy and programs in Ecuador focus on seizing contraband drugs,
with cocaine (HCL, base and paste) seizures down 67% in 2000; marijuana seizures up
503%, and heroin seizures up 35% over 1999 levels. Some 40% of all drug seizures
occurred at road checkpoints. Scarce resources, reluctance to get embroiled in nonnarcotics related issues (i.e., threats to Ecuadorian national security or regional stability),
and lingering concern over U.S. congressional reaction to legitimizing military
organizations supportive of January 21, 2000 coup events in Ecuador are factors affecting
U.S. counter drug programs currently support (1) the National Drug Unit of the
ENP; (2) Ecuador’s interagency coordinating organizational equivalent of the U.S. Drug
Czar’s Office: the National Drug Council (CONSEP); (3) Ecuador’s Customs Service;
and, to a lesser extent, (4) the military. Major U. S. program priorities include (1)
strengthening ENP canine detection units and mobile and fixed road checkpoints; (2)
sustaining an operational office for the National Drug Council; and (3) providing port
interdiction assistance to host nation customs personnel.
The State Department’s FY2002 narcotics control request for Ecuador is $3.5
million, significantly up from $2.2 million in FY2001. FY2002 budget request allocations
include $2 million for law enforcement for the ENP; $ 50,000 for the National Drug
Council; $1 million for a U.S. port facility training/advisory support program, and
$450,000 for program development and support. The Administration’s FY2001
$21,060,000 aid request (absent “Plan Colombia” supplemental aid and Defense
Department (DOD) counterdrug funding) for Ecuador and its recent history is as follows:
Table 1. Ecuador: U.S. Foreign Aid & Other Support
($ in thousands)
Notes: aInternational Narcotics Control; bEconomic Support Funds; cDevelopment Assistance; dChild
Survival & Disease; eInternational Military, Educational & Training; fNon-proliferation, Anti-Terrorism
& Demining. gSection 1004 counter-drug funding primarily for FOL operating costs and limited host
Source: U.S. Departments of State, Defense, March 2000.
In addition to the funding data listed above, P.L. 106-246 emergency supplemental
appropriations provides $20 million in support for Ecuador: $8 million for alternative
development and $12 million for interdiction programs, with $4 million of the $12 million
currently under review. P.L.106-246 also includes $63.1 million for construction upgrades
for the U.S.-based FOL at Manta.
A number of Members of Congress have been critical of the former Clinton
Administration’s reluctance to place greater emphasis on a “Plan Colombia” regionally
focused response.2 Drug trafficking/insurgent activity in Colombia is often viewed by
neighboring states as a regional problem that can be easily transformed into a threat to
regional security. Comments to this effect, stressing the gravity of the threat to
neighboring nations and the need for a regional security response, were presented by
former Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahaud and Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori
during a visit to the InterAmerican Defense College in Washington, D.C. on February 3
and 5, 1999. A similar viewpoint was aired by Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda
in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, January 31, 2001, in Washington.
Section 215 of S. 1758, 106th Congress (Coverdale, DeWine, and Grassley), which was not
enacted, for example, would have authorized $410 million for enhancement of regional interdiction,
with up to $85 million “for governments of the front line states to increase the effectiveness of
regional interdiction efforts.” Logical candidates for such funding would be police forces, armies,
and navies of front line states.
This perceived threat to regional stability goes beyond Ecuador and Peru. Analysts
increasingly express concern over the potential for accelerated spillover of Colombian
narco-trafficking/insurgent activity into Brazil, Panama and Venezuela (3rd largest oil
supplier to the U.S.) as well.
Moreover, according to informed sources at the Office of National Drug Control
Policy (ONDCP) in February 2001, incursions by the FARC and Colombian paramilitary
groups into remote border areas of Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela have been a common
occurrence for “several years.” On January 19, 2001, Ecuadorian Armed Forces personnel
reportedly killed six members of the FARC at what was characterized as an illegal drug
making lab near the Colombian border. Another area of concern, yet to materialize as a
major problem, is the “spillover” of refugees from the conflict in Colombia into
neighboring countries. Estimates of the number of Colombian refugees entering Ecuador
in the year 2000 vary from 5,000 to 1,600, the latter figure being the more widely
U.S. support for Plan Colombia is formalized in P.L. 106-246, signed into law on
July 13, 2000, which includes $1.3 billion in emergency supplemental aid. Funding for
regional counter-narcotics support primarily for Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador is earmarked
at $180 million.3 U.S. support for Plan Colombia gives regional intelligence collection
high priority with such efforts funded at the $62.2 million level for the FY2000 and
FY2001 two-year period; regional interdiction is funded at $55 million during the same
Colombian drug traffickers and narco-linked insurgents have taken advantage of easy
access to Ecuador’s border areas for a number of years, primarily for rest and recreation,
and purchase of supplies. U.S.-supported military operations against narcotrafficking/guerilla groups in Colombia could accelerate such a trend. Increased presence
of Colombian and narco-linked insurgents could limit the effectiveness of U.S. anti-drug
support to Colombia and threaten the territorial integrity and stability of Ecuador.
Stepped-up levels of FARC activity and violence in Ecuador, to the extent perceived to
be a result of growing U.S. pressure on narco-insurgents, could well diminish levels of
Ecuadorian public support for the presence of the U.S. based monitoring facility at Manta
and erode hemispheric regional support for the Administration’s Colombia counterdrug
initiative. However, one viewpoint, gaining increasing acceptance, is that the insurgents
do not want to start a new front of military activity in Ecuador anytime soon.
See CRS Report RL30541, Colombia: U.S. Assistance and Current Legislation.
Note that accurate, timely, and relevant intelligence is generally deemed essential to successful
operations, but in general, nations spend far less on intelligence programs than operations. For
example, ordinarily, DOD’s intelligence budget is less than 10% of its overall budget.
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