In 2023, the appearance of a dozen armed, masked men on a live Ecuadorian television broadcast was the scene that most clearly expressed the insecurity of Latin American citizens. A fact that led the government of Daniel Noboa to declare the existence of an internal armed conflict in the country. Amid tensions over the measure and an atmosphere of uncertainty, a detail related to Peru raised alarm: one of the grenades carried by the criminals bore the insignia of the armed forces of the Andean country with which they border in the south.
Shortly after the government of Dina Boluarte declared a state of emergency for 60 days in the five regions bordering Ecuador (Tumbes, Piura, Cajamarca, Amazonas, Loreto), Defense Minister Jorge Chávez Cresta confirmed the information: “Explosives, ammunition and some war grenades were found and investigations are underway, information exchange between Ecuadorian and Peruvian intelligence services to determine the supply channel.”
The hostage-taking at TC Televisión only highlighted a problem of international concern that was not addressed with solvency: the arms trade between these two neighbors. A report from the Peruvian police's Intelligence Directorate (Dirin), published by the newspaper El Comercio, puts an open secret in numbers. In 2023, 391,239 ammunition were seized in Tumbes, a record that represents a 13,000% increase compared to 2022, when 2,832 ammunition were seized in the coastal region. Another detail that highlights the porosity of the border is that seizures in Tumbes alone accounted for 92% of the total ammunition confiscated nationwide in the year he left the country.
Tumbes is also second in terms of firearms confiscated in 2023 with a total of 89, behind Loreto (151) and ahead of Piura (71). Most often these are revolvers, shotguns and pistols. Peruvian police claim to have identified 48 unauthorized border crossings between Peru and Ecuador, according to the report. For Christian Aguayo, mayor of Zarumilla in Tumbes, the calculation is not precise given the magnitude of the matter. “There are definitely more levels than 48. This all happened because the border was always open. The only border control takes place at the international bridge, where only the goods of official traders are checked. They are harassed by police officers. But ten meters away there are open entry and exit lines for all kinds of people smuggling and illegal crossings. “We are forgotten,” he says.
An alliance of Peruvian and Ecuadorian journalistic media (the portals Ojo Público, Code Vidrio and Vistazo) had access to a secret document showing that there were 80 irregular passages and that the weapons mostly came from the Peruvian army arms and ammunition factory come from (FAME). “The main entry point for arms trafficking is Ecuador’s southern border through one of the 80 irregular border crossings discovered,” the release said. The same report states that “52% of explosives seized throughout Ecuador are manufactured in Peru.” The most commonly used by the mafias is Emulnor, which is wrapped in different colored plastic.
When contraband does not pass through these unauthorized locations, it does so because of poor police and immigration controls that involve the use of trucks, cars and even mules. At least four routes have been distinguished: “The first starts in Aguas Verdes (border district of Peru), from where the cargo is transported by taxis and motorcycles to a group of farms on the border in Ecuador.” The second part leads from the city Tumbes towards Huaquillas, then to Guayaquil, Quevedo, Ambato, Tena, Lago Agrio and Putumayo before reaching Colombia. The third route covers the area of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, then Quito, Ibarra and Tulcán. And the fourth variant covers the Andean center and leads via Latacunga, Ambato and Baños,” describes the analysis.
Meanwhile, Segismundo Cruces Ordinola, governor of Tumbes, a strategic region no matter where you look at it, has made an appeal to the forces of law and order: “Come and carry out an inspection. Arms trafficking is the order of the day (…) We need many more troops to control the 74 kilometers of open border that we have. There are kilometers that are completely helpless when Ecuadorian and Peruvian criminals are hiding.”
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