QUITO, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Ecuador and Belgium on Monday agreed to increase bilateral cooperation in their fight against international organized crime, a day after Ecuadorean police seized nearly nine tonnes of drugs bound for the European country.
The interior ministers of both countries signed an agreement in Quito to promote the exchange of information, methodology, procedures and experiences, as well as technology to combat organized crime.
Ecuadorean police found some 8.78 tons of cocaine hidden in a container with bananas, the organization said on Sunday.
The drugs were to be exported from Ecuador’s coastal city of Guayaquil to Belgium, police said, adding the shipment was valued at about $330 million in Europe.
President Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker, has pushed for Ecuador to ramp up efforts to fight gangs that use the country as a transit point for shipping cocaine to the United States and Europe.
The size of the seizure over the weekend makes it necessary for Ecuador to further strengthen cooperation with the Belgian government, Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata told reporters.
Of the 201 tonnes of drugs seized in Ecuador last year, almost 18% was destined for Belgium, specifically Antwerp, Zapata said.
“It’s undeniable that we need new transversal responses against organized crime,” he said.
So far in 2023, Ecuador has seized some 39 tonnes of drugs, especially cocaine, according to police data.