Ecuadorian authorities have uncovered a rogue element in the military that has been allegedly selling weapons to the dissident FARC leader Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho”, of the Oliver Sinisterra Front, which has sown terror on the border between Ecuador and Colombia.
Prosecutors, together with intelligence units of the National Police, confirmed the capture of the 14 men on Wednesday, October 17, among them seven soldiers and seven civilians who were carrying out activities in the remote coastal town of San Lorenzo in northwestern Ecuador, an area where Guacho was operating.
The investigation indicates that these men are possibly part of an organized crime group dedicated to drug trafficking and arms trafficking, and are linked to deaths reported along the volatile Colombian-Ecuadorian border. It is suspected that these men have been supplying heavy duty weaponry to the FARC dissidents. Ecuador has vigorously pursued the Oliver Sinisterra Front under the auspices of “Operation Chameleon.”
At a press conference, the Army Commander, Roque Moreira, lamented the fact that the reputation of the Ecuadorian military has been sullied by these allegations, and stated that, “we are hurt by what is happening.” He pledged full transparency and collaboration with the investigations so that the rule of law will be applied as prosecutors unravel the details of the disturbing relationship.
According to the prosecutor, María Coloma, the raids occurred in warehouses of the Armed Forces in the Loja, Quito, Santo Domingo, Guayaquil, and Taura.
The Oliver Sinisterra Front has committed several atrocities int he border region, including the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a journalistic team of the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio, composed of the journalist Javier Ortega, the photographer Paúl Rivas and the driver Efraín Segarra.
They are also responsible for the death of an Ecuadorian couple, Oscar Villacís and Katty Velasco, who perished in captivity in the hands of the terrorist group. They have also perpetrated, over a dozen attacks this year in the northwestern province of Esmeraldas, bordering Colombia.
Guacho still remains at large
While security forces claimed to have gravely wounded Guacho last September in the thick vegetation surrounding the Colombian city of Tumaco, Nariño, this was denied by Colombian President Iván Duque.
Regarding the version in which Guacho had been wounded, he said that the explanations and details about the operation had already been submitted by General Alberto Mejía, commander of the Colombian Military Forces.
“General Alberto Mejía gave statements on that in particular and I want to tell our security forces that we are proud of what they are doing.”
He added: “We continue in the hunt for that criminal known as alias Guacho.”
Both the Colombian and Ecuadorian governments are taking serious measures to disrupt the activities of the Front, and capture its elusive head Guacho. They have tracked the finances of the organization, captured many of its top leadership, and confiscated high volumes of narcotics precursors.
This week, the Colombian Navy located a speedboat off the coast of the southwestern Colombian state of Nariño that contained nearly a ton of cocaine hydrochloride. According to the authorities, the shipment was beeing overseen by Guacho, and intended to be shipped to Central America.
With a weight of 940 kilos, the drug shipment would be valued at roughly USD $9 million and was hidden in a false bottom that had been built in the boat, and wrapped in plastic packages. The seizure took place in the sector of Estero Aguaclara, on the outskirts of Tumaco, where Guacho has territorial control.
The men inside the boat, upon facing potential confrontation with naval units, fled, abandoning the boat.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has taken a far more moderate tone in cultivating relationships with the region, and pledged to rid the often-restless border region of organized criminal elements, in conjunction with Colombia.