The Annual Impact of a Lost War

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Every year brings the same impasse between the United States and Ecuadorian Governments: the US State Department publishes its report, ‘Strategy for the Control of International Narcotics’ and Rafael Correa’s Government rejects it. This year, Interior Minister José Serrano was the first to comment: “This report is nothing more than the reflection of a retaliation, knowing full well that Ecuador needs this support less and less, these handouts, these little gifts they give to our police units.” Serrano’s reaction takes into account only part of the report’s contents because, overall, the document is politically favorable to the Government. In summary, the report states that Ecuador does its homework, but does not have sufficient means and should accept help.

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The report assigns no responsibility to the Government for the enormous institutional weaknesses it describes. To the contrary, it is generous when it states that “the Ecuadorian Government is aware of the harmful effects of drug trafficking and transnational organized crime throughout the country.” In reality, there seems to be no institutional awareness of the phenomenon of drug trafficking, the scale of money laundering or the resulting social and political consequences for society.

The report notes, however, the December 2013 adoption by the Assembly of the new Penal Code; the increase in penalties; the change in the consumption chart which reduces the quantities of drugs that can be legally carried; and the technological capabilities of the police to fight drug traffickers. The report acknowledges that Ecuador has anti-narcotics agreements with other countries, including the United States, regarding the diversion of chemicals, monetary transactions, human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Moreover, it also notes that Ecuador shares with the United States the Maritime Operational Processes to co-ordinate the capture of ships. Thanks to these, the United States Coast Guard has seen some of its most successful anti-narcotics border operations.

None of this is what irritates the Ecuadorian Government. What Correa-ists object to is the publication of realities that they insist on denying: “Ecuador is a transit country for precursor chemicals for processing illegal drugs and is also vulnerable to organized crime through the weakness of public institutions, porous borders and corruption”. But instead of responsibilities, Washington notes shortages: “The Ecuadorian police, armed forces and judiciary lack sufficient resources to deal with the transnational crimes they face.” Crimes committed by whom? According to the report, “The Zetas, the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operate in Ecuador” whilst, “The Mexican cartels are increasingly using private aircraft and clandestine routes to transport money to Ecuador and cocaine to Mexico and Central America.” That is, “Ecuador remains a major transit country for cocaine shipments by land, air and sea routes and heroin shipments by air and mail.”

These points, which surely the State Department can prove, are denied by the Government. Ecuador takes refuge in statistics to show that its apparatus of repression works; statistics which, in turn, are cited favorably in the report. Ecuador believes that these figures, which show an increase in the quantity of drugs seized, are enough to exempt it from blame. The United States believes that Ecuador’s deficiencies are explained by the closure of the US Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation in 2014 and a reduction in collaboration. Ecuador denies the existence of a phenomenon that exceeds its capacity to respond. The United States continues to believe that the war against narcotics could be won if other countries adhered to its policies, which each year require more money and manpower. This dilemma has specific conditions in Ecuador, but by no means exclusive.

This explains Washington’s conclusion which recalls, incidentally, that Ecuador receives very little financial assistance. The report suggests giving higher priority to the interdiction of illicit drugs and the control of precursor chemicals; providing additional funding so that anti-narcotics efforts keep pace with growing challenges; increasing the technological and logistical capacity of the police and army; and improving training standards for investigators.

And Ecuador will continue to respond in the same way: claiming that it makes costly efforts to monitor the northern border and to increase the number of seizures; that there is no coca cultivation in its territory, as noted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); that it is fighting microtrafficking; that it has cleaned up the police force; that it has outpatient drug treatment centers (albeit insufficient); that Ecuador does not encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotics or money laundering.

Each year the two governments arrive, one way or another, at the same point. Drug trafficking and drug use, meanwhile, continue to grow. Including in Ecuador.

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