Mexican cartels are fighting for control of the drug trade in Ecuador

The terror of the Mexican drug cartels has settled in Ecuador. This South American country has experienced several days of violence this week carried out by criminal organizations operating in alliance mainly with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel. These two gangs, which have been fighting for drug sales in Mexico for years, stopped being national organizations a long time ago to expand to other countries. Now it is an important part of their operations in South America, and Ecuador has become one of the main corridors for drugs coming from Colombia to Europe, the United States and Central America. The dispute over control between these organizations was seen on the streets of at least four Ecuadorian cities this week, where 18 coordinated attacks took place, killing five police officers and injuring seven others.

Attacks on the streets have their roots in the country’s prisons, from where the criminal activities of Mexican cartel allies are coordinated. On one side are Los Choneros, who originated in the late 1990s in the coastal town of Manta. It is the most prominent criminal group in Ecuador and currently operates as the operational cocaine-trafficking arm of the Sinaloa cartel. On the other hand, as identified by the authorities, there are Los Lobos, Tiguerones and Chone Killers, three gangs that carry out logistical operations to trade this narcotic for CJNG.

In those prisons where they operate, an action was carried out this week that was supposed to transfer the prisoners to other prisons. “The goal is to reduce overcrowding, improve infrastructure and security conditions,” the National Service for Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI) announced on social media. But the decision angered allies of the Jalisco cartel, who interpreted it as an alliance between the authorities and Sinaloa to harm them and responded by threatening to subject the population and all prisons to a wave of terror. This appears in a video taken from the prison where many men are seen, some of them with explosives strapped to their chests.

“The war has started again,” says an audio recording sent to his family by a man imprisoned in a penitentiary in Guayaquil, as gunshots ring out in the background. The attacks, which were launched at dawn on November 3, were carried out with firearms and grenades, according to the authorities. The riot in that prison this Thursday (local time) was contained shortly after 4 p.m. thanks to the intervention of 700 policemen and 470 soldiers. So far, two prisoners have died in the rebellion, and eight have been injured. The police confirmed that 11 soldiers and three soldiers were injured in the action. While they were in the streets, explosive attacks continued in different parts of Durán, in the province of Guayas. The targets were the police station, three gas stations and an electrical service station. In response, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency with a 45-day curfew for the sixth time this year.

With blood and fire, these criminal organizations are fighting for the control of borders and ports. In this context, criminal groups in Ecuador have joined forces with Mexican cartels that receive substances and pay for them, financing the internal conflict in the South American country with money and weapons. Sinaloa’s operations in the country date back to the early 2000s. One of its intermediaries was the well-known politician Cesar Fernández, who became the governor of Ecuador’s Manabí province. Fernández was arrested in 2003 when he was loading 430 kilograms of coca onto a plane he planned to fly from Portoviejo to Mexico.

After Fernández’s capture, command was given to a military captain, Telmo Castro, who worked directly with Tomas Guzman, Joaquín’s nephew. El Chapo Guzman. The information came out to the public at the trial against the drug lord, which was held in New York. Castro was arrested for drug trafficking and killed in his cell at Litoral prison. Los Choneros, led at the time by José Luis Zambrano, alias Rasquiña, then took control of drug trafficking operations in Sinaloa.

The three criminal groups associated with the CJNG are cells that broke away from Los Choneros and reconfigured themselves autonomously after the assassination of leader Rasquiña, who managed to maintain hegemony, but after his death the leadership of the organization split again.

The violent rhetoric of the Mexican drug trafficker has crept into Ecuador as evidence of the organization’s infiltration into that country. Last Monday, two lifeless bodies appeared hanging from a bridge in Esmeralda, on the border with Colombia. It is a dark practice that has been carried out by drug cartels in Mexico for years, and which the South American country has not seen until recently. Or the wave of siege that several Ecuadorian cities experienced this week revives the memory of the so-called Culiacanazoon that gray day of October 17, 2019, when the Sinaloa cartel took over the streets of Culiacán and surrounded the city after members of the armed forces arrested Ovidio Guzman, one of El Chapo’s sons.

Mexican criminal organizations have been spreading their tentacles across South America for months. In June of this year, the Chilean authorities confirmed that both the CJNG and the Sinaloa cartel had entered Chile. The first established a secret laboratory in the city of Iquique, while traces of Sinaloa appeared on a seized plane that was trying to transport 665 kilograms of cocaine from Chile to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

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