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Channel 4 investigate the ‘Cocaine Wars’ in Ecuador


Channel 4 investigate the ‘Cocaine Wars’ in Ecuador

The documentary is part of the network’s Unreported World strand.

Cocaine Wars: Unreported World spends two weeks with a police outgunned and outnumbered on the new front line of a bloody drug war in Ecuador.

Rival drug cartels have taken over the once peaceful city of Guayaquil in a bid to control lucrative new drug routes to Europe and the United States. Until recently better known for tourism than cocaine-fuelled violence, daily life for many in Ecuador has become a quest for survival.

In 2021, more than 2400 people were killed as the country’s murder rate doubled. Sandwiched between the cocaine-producing nations of Colombia and Peru, Ecuador’s largest city has become the new arena for rival Mexican drug cartels. The Sinaloa and Nueva Generacion organisations have recruited local gangs into their deadly battle to gain exclusive control of the city ports.

Reporter Guillermo Galdos joins police major Stalin Armijo as his unit patrols the deadly streets of Guayaquil.

Galdos encounters a terrified population where gun crime is rife and it can be too dangerous to leave home and the police themselves are far from safe. Galdos meets the foot soldiers of the cocaine wars. Brandishing handguns while packing cocaine destined for local users, they explain how most gang members join the ranks young, but must quickly learn how to defend their patch with deadly force.

The effects of the pandemic, and Ecuador’s subsequent spiralling unemployment, are providing a seemingly endless supply of recruits, where getting into the trade is easy, but trying to leave is seen as a betrayal, and can get you executed by your own side.

In Guayaquil, the Ecuadorian government is keen to show it is taking on the cartels. In 2021, authorities seized 210 tons of drugs nationwide. But at the massive commercial ports, authorities can only search only 20 percent of cargo.

Having already declared a state of emergency last year, the government is sending the army to the streets again, after one of the deadliest weekends in Guayaquil’s recent history. Away from Guayaquil, families across Ecuador are being torn apart by the violence. In the coastal town of Manta, traffickers are recruiting local fishermen to help move their cargo to Central America and Mexico.

Unreported World, Channel 4, 7.30 pm

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