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Ecuador uncovers largest stash of cocaine in its history: 22 tons hidden in a pig farm

The drugs were packaged in bricks labeled with the names of airlines they were destined to be sent to: Iberia, KLM, Qatar, AB and JET2

Ecuador drogas
Drugs seized in Spain that arrived from Colombia and Ecuador at the end of 2023.ALFONS LUNA (AFP)

Never before had Ecuador seized as many drugs in a single place as it did on Sunday, when it found a hidden stash buried in a pig farm in Estero Lagarto, an area in the coastal province of Los Ríos, about 155 miles from Quito. In 733 jute bags, 22 tons of cocaine hydrochloride were stored, perfectly packaged in the shape of a brick and labeled with the airlines they were destined to go to: Iberia, KLM, Qatar, AB, JET2. “There are six different logos that make it clear what the destinations were,” said César Zapata, police commander.

Ecuador’s Armed Forces began the operation on Sunday morning and ended at dusk. Around 150 troops took part. The operation — intended to be a blow to drug trafficking — led to an unprecedented discovery. A dozen soldiers had the location of where nearly 10 tons of drugs were buried; they dug four meters underground for hours to remove the packages of the illicit substance — valued at $1 billion on the international market.

The soldiers’ search also took them to a sewer duct, which led to an underground labyrinth, where another 12 tons of cocaine hydrochloride were located. The discovery reinforces the investigation of the army, which believes that Ecuador is not only a transit country for drugs, but also home to drug processing laboratories. The soldiers also discovered 12 rifles and more than 5,000 pieces of ammunition stashed in the property.

According to authorities, the success of the operation was the result of six months of investigation, through observation and surveillance by the military intelligence unit. However, authorities have still not determined the owner of the property. “We are working to find out who it belongs to,” added Zapata, who explained that the drugs were to be transported in boats to cargo ships leaving the ports and then be sent to the United States, Central America, Europe and Asia.

The pig farm was a spot to store drugs and weapons. Army personnel described it as “a whitewashed warehouse with the façade of a pork center.” Estero Lagarto is a rural area that is well hidden in the middle of mountains and extensive agricultural lands that can only be accessed by a narrow dirt road. Only one person who was guarding the farm was arrested during the operation. Security forces have called on the justice system to act quickly to destroy the 22 tons of drugs, which required a military truck for transportation.

Ecuador is the country with the third-highest cocaine seizures in the world, according to the latest report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In the last three years, around 550 tons of illicit substances were seized in the country. International drug trafficking is one of the reasons for the gang warfare in the country, which has led to levels of violence that the South American country had never experienced before. In the first days of 2024, 27 violent deaths were registered every day. After President Daniel Noboa declared an “internal armed conflict” on January 9, this has been reduced to 10 events per day, said the police commander.

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