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LATIN AMERICA | 23-01-2024 15:37

Ecuador nabs wanted narco-trafficker, President Noboa says crackdown bearing fruit

Carlos Arturo Landazuri Cortes, nickname 'El Gringo,' was arrested on Monday; Accused is the alleged leader of a drug-dealing dissident group and suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of three Ecuadorean journalists in 2018.

Ecuador on Monday announced the arrest of a wanted cocaine trafficker from neighbouring Colombia, as President Daniel Noboa said his government's crackdown on gang violence was starting to bear fruit.

Carlos Arturo Landazuri Cortes, a "high-value target," was captured overnight after months of investigations and intelligence work, Ecuador's police chief Cesar Augusto Zapata said on the X social network.

Landazuri, nicknamed 'El Gringo,' is a leader of the Oliver Sinisterra Front – a drug-dealing dissident group of Colombia's now-defunct FARC guerillas.

Apart from drug-smuggling, he was suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of three Ecuadorean journalists in 2018 and in a bomb attack the same year that injured 28 police officers in the country's northwest.

Colombian police later said Zapata was being extradited back to Colombia.

The Colombian prosecutor's office lists the Oliver Sinisterra Front as key among "transnational organisations dedicated to cocaine trafficking" to the United States and Europe from the southwest of the country.

This part of Colombia borders Ecuador – a once peaceful nation whose ports have become key exit points for drugs, attracting powerful cartels and plunging it into violence.

Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency on January 8 after a prominent drug-lord, José Adolfo Macias, alias 'Fito,' escaped from one of Ecuador's notoriously violent prisons, mobilising 22,000 uniformed officers to return order to the streets.

The gangs hit back by taking hostage scores of prison officials, since released, and carrying out attacks that have left about 20 people dead. 

Authorities say they have carried out 2,800 arrests, killed five "terrorists" and recaptured 32 escaped prisoners since the start of the operation.

The Army has sent troops and tanks to regain control of detention centres which had become the criminal headquarters of the main gangs.

 

'Strong blows'

On Monday, Noboa said Ecuador's "war" on gangs was advancing but not yet won.

"The state of emergency is working. There are fewer violent deaths, there is more tranquillity, people feel safer and no longer hesitate to denounce extortionists," said the 36-year-old who took office just two months ago.

"We are dealing strong blows to these narco-terrorist groups," Noboa told a domestic television station. 

"We cannot stop, we cannot rest and we cannot believe that this has been solved in two weeks. We must continue fighting," he added, and extended the state of emergency by 30 days until April. 

With the violence worrying the region, government ministers from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru met in Lima on Sunday, announcing they will set up a cross-border security network to fight transnational drug crime.

"The reality obliges us to act in coordination," said Peru's Prime Minister Alberto Otarola. "No country is safe if a neighbour suffers the insane attacks of these groups. This problem must be addressed forcefully."

Ecuadorean authorities on Monday also removed hundreds of metres of internet and satellite TV cables from one of the country's prisons in the southern city of Machala, seeking to prevent it from being used as a centre of operations for drug trafficking.

On Sunday they seized 22 tons of cocaine in a major military operation – one of the biggest busts in its history – while on Saturday, officers intercepted a narco-submarine in the Pacific off Ecuadorean waters, and found another three tons of the drug.

Ecuador and the United States announced after a meeting in Quito Monday they would cooperate in the war against drug-trafficking.

Foreign Minister Gabriela Sommerfeld hosted a US delegation that included presidential advisor Christopher Dodd and Laura Richardson, the top US general for the Latin America region.

Their visit, said Sommerfeld, was "a powerful and concrete political signal of US support for the administration of President Daniel Noboa in the... armed conflict against terrorism, drug trafficking and transnational organised crime."

 

–TIMES/AFP

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