Why bananas are being used to smuggle cocaine

ECUADOR – Spanish authorities made an unprecedented discovery in August—an astounding 9.5 tons of cocaine concealed within a refrigerated container carrying bananas from Ecuador. The potential street value of this illicit cargo? A staggering $239 million. 

“This operation has meant an unprecedented blow to one of the most important criminal organizations worldwide in the distribution of cocaine whose recipients were the main criminal networks in Europe,” the Spanish National Police said in a statement.

But this alarming trend isn’t limited to Spain alone. Dutch officials recently seized their largest-ever cocaine haul, nearly 8 metric tons, hidden within a shipment of Ecuadorian bananas. Meanwhile, authorities in Greece and Italy have also reported seizing large amounts of cocaine concealed within banana shipments this year.

Law enforcement agencies across the world have raised a red flag, emphasizing that drug traffickers are increasingly exploiting banana shipments from Ecuador as a way to smuggle cocaine. In fact, a United Nations report paints a concerning picture, revealing that nearly a third of the cocaine confiscated by customs authorities in Western and Central Europe traces its origins to Ecuador, which was double the amount reported in 2018.

Why bananas, you ask? Jose Hidalgo, the executive director of the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador, offered some insight to The Associated Press: “It is because of bananas that there are so many ports. It opens routes to other export products.”

Ecuador, renowned as the world’s largest exporter of bananas, finds itself strategically situated between two of the world’s major cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia. The Associated Press reports that this geographical proximity, combined with Ecuador’s use of the U.S. dollar, weak legal framework, and institutions, has drawn the attention of cartels from Mexico, Colombia, the Balkans, and beyond.

Tragically, the increase in drug trafficking in Ecuador has led to a surge in violent deaths, which doubled from 2021 to 2022 and is on track to break that record in 2023.