Calm returns to Ecuador after an "interesting" week

A week ago, people around the world started hearing about troubles in Ecuador, sparked by the prison escape of a drug lord. Images of armed goons (they didn’t give the impression they were from an organized and disciplined group) taking over a live TV broadcast were seen.   News that prison guards were being held hostage and that bomb threats were being made was shared widely, along with images of chaos in Guayaquil, a large port city.  

In response, the newly elected president, Daniel Noboa, imposed an 11PM – 5AM curfew throughout the country (expiring on 8 March).  With full support of the national assembly, he also imposed a national state of emergency for the weekend of 13-14 January only, giving extra powers to the military and to police to round up the suspects.

Today, we learn that all prison guard hostages have been released, prisons are back in government control and over 1,000 arrests of drug gang members have been made.  Over the past few days, we have heard from various government sources, and from our own CNH Tours colleagues in Quito, Guayaquil and Galapagos that things have returned to normal. Today, January 15, 2024, the Mayor of Guayaquil announced that normal activities (with a strong army presence) have resumed in Guayaquil.

To be sure, there is increased police / military presence in key places (airports, government buildings).

The country is experiencing calm as stores reopen, employees return to their offices, and visitation returns to the historic centre of Quito (with the exception of the central square in front of the Presidential Palace, which remains closed). 

The Guayaquil and Quito Airports are operating normally.  Members of the army are checking all cars entering the security perimeter of the airport so please allow for an extra 20 – 30 minutes to your normal travel time to allow for your vehicle to be inspected.

International arrival and departure flights are operating normally (with the exception of issues relating to winter storms and Boeing jets grounded for technical concerns).

Galapagos a refuelling station for drug shipments?

Today we saw stories in the press about Galapagos being the fuelling station for drug shipments, as traffickers move their product from South America to North America by sailing far out at sea, south, then west of the Galapagos archipelago and then northwards – staying away from government patrols which tend to monitor waters closer to shore (though the US Coast Guard does carry out monitoring patrols in international waters around the archipelago - see this story).  Needing to refuel, there has been some collusion between local fishermen and the drug dealers. Fishermen buy fuel purportedly for their operations and head out to sea, far from the regular monitoring patrols of the navy / coast guard, meet up with the dealers and make their trade.  

The authorities have been capturing such drug dealing ships for years, but apparently there is more and more such traffic beyond the boundaries of the Galapagos marine reserve.   A record 25 tons of cocaine were seized from such ships in 2023 according to the Ecuadorian navy (up from 1 ton in 2019).  These activities do not intersect with those of expedition cruise ships, which navigate well within the marine reserve waters.  

Vote of confidence

While there is no such thing as zero-risk travel, at CNH Tours, we are confident that travel within Ecuador and the Galapagos islands is as low risk as it was before these recent events. While we recognize that our guests first need to be comfortable in their own decision to travel and that they need to be the final arbiters in the matter, we hope to reassure them that there is no longer any cause for increased concern following last week’s events.

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