A gun printer, a highway surveillance center, and drone robberies are just some of the technological advances being used by criminals in Ecuadorian.
Ecuador is currently facing a surge in crime and violence, with authorities identifying at least eight criminal gangs associated with drug trafficking. These gangs are involved in providing logistical, transportation, storage, and security services to transnational cartels, while also engaging in other criminal activities such as thefts, extortion, assassinations, arms trafficking, and kidnapping.
To carry out these crimes, the criminal groups in Ecuador have turned to technology. According to the National Police and the Armed Forces, most of the technological supplies used by the gangs are being imported. These groups have established international connections that allow them to obtain the necessary technology, and even receive training abroad to handle devices like 3D printers, surveillance cameras, and drones.
Between September 2022 and April 2023, Ecuador and the United States dismantled an organization dedicated to international trafficking and the production of firearms, which were then sold to drug gangs. The operation started in the United States, where they purchased guns and parts from gun shops in Miami, Florida.
They camouflaged the weapons and their components in industrial material and sent them to Ecuador through courier and parcel, air, and maritime companies. Jorge Chica-Giler, who was later sentenced in the United States, sent the manuals to Ecuador, which included technical characteristics, measurements, and other specifications.
Alias ‘Guerra’ then programmed that data into a 3D printer imported from the United States, printing the parts for the weapons. An ex-military member would then assemble the weapons to sell on the illegal market.
On April 18, 2023, after an armed confrontation, police captured 11 suspected members of the Los Águilas criminal gang in Yaguachi, Guayas. The detainees are suspected of crimes such as extortion, murder, and robbery on the Guayas Road axes. According to the police, the gang had a monitoring center with its own surveillance cameras installed on the roads that connect Yaguachi with Durán and Milagro. Despite this evidence, four of the 11 detainees were released, including the leader of Los Águilas, alias ‘La Mole,’ as the police report did not include the evidence found in his home.
On March 30, 2023, a security guard at a business in Guayaquil was strapped with explosives for three hours. Gang members attached dynamite to his body as retaliation for not complying with extortion conditions.
The National Police’s Anti-Explosive Team successfully disarmed a bomb before it could detonate. However, the technicians were surprised by the device’s unique arming mechanisms, which included three ways to detonate the dynamite, one of which was triggered by sudden movements of the guard. The most noteworthy feature was a remote mechanism that used a cell phone. The guard had a cell phone taped on him that would activate the bomb if someone called it.
The residents of the Valle de los Chillos, located southeast of Quito, have been surprised by the new forms of violence and crime affecting this residential area of the capital. Some residents have reported that criminals are using drones to fly over residential complexes and obtain information to rob their homes. The police commander of the Rumiñahui District, Mario Jaramillo, reported that in April their agents detained nine people who had a drone, an alarm signal blocker, auto parts, and dismantled vehicles.
Kidnapping and money laundering
Another example of how technology is being used by criminal gangs in Ecuador is in the case of kidnapping. In recent years, kidnappings have increased significantly in the country, and technology is playing a significant role in this crime.
According to the police, criminal gangs use technology to locate potential victims, track their movements, and communicate with their family members to demand ransom. In some cases, they use social media to identify wealthy people and their families, monitor their activities, and plan their abductions.
In one such case, in March 2023, a wealthy businessman from Quito was kidnapped by a criminal gang who used a GPS tracker to locate his car and then followed him until he arrived at his home. They then abducted him and demanded a ransom of $1 million from his family members.
The police were able to track down the kidnappers and rescue the businessman, but the case highlights the growing use of technology by criminal gangs in Ecuador.
The use of technology is not limited to criminal activities, either. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of using technology to launder money obtained from illegal activities such as drug trafficking and arms smuggling.
Criminal gangs in Ecuador are using digital currencies such as Bitcoin to launder their money and avoid detection by law enforcement agencies. They use online platforms and dark web marketplaces to exchange their digital currencies for traditional currencies and then transfer the funds to bank accounts or other financial institutions.
The use of digital currencies for money laundering is a growing problem around the world, and law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep up with the rapidly evolving technologies used by criminals.