QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador and Colombia on Sunday agreed to the bilateral reopening of their shared border from the start of December after it was closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, and pledged to work together to combat drug trafficking.
The shared border was shut in March 2020 as both governments looked to curb the spread of coronavirus. The controlled reopening, complete with epidemiological measures, will bring greater security and economic activity to the zone.
“Opening the borders means no Ecuadorian or Colombian family will have to pay criminal bands charging to cross via alternative routes, rather than the official ones, which will be opened on December 1,” Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso said in Quito following a meeting with his Colombian counterpart Ivan Duque.
During the meeting, Colombia offered to support Ecuador in the fight against drug trafficking.
Ecuador is beset by a wave of crime that has caused homicides to spike which the country’s authorities link to the trafficking and consumption of drugs.
On Friday Lasso extended a state of emergency across Ecuador to keep military patrols on the streets in areas with high rates of homicide and other crimes associated with the drug trade.
“Ecuador will receive everything it needs from Colombia to fight against organized crime,” Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said.
The two presidents also discussed repatriation of prisoners. Duque said the process to repatriate 170 prisoners will proceed in line with laws and protocols.
Violence in Ecuador’s prisons has spiked this year as criminal gangs duke it out for supremacy. The most recent riot in the Penitenciaria del Litoral prison saw 62 prisoners killed.
In recent years Ecuador’s prison system has struggled with violence, overcrowding, and poor living conditions for some 39,000 prisoners.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Diane Craft)