Central America Draws Support from Mexico and Colombia in Fight against Drug Trafficking
Colombia and Mexico have come to play the role of a kind of older sibling in matters related to the fight against drug trafficking in Central America, whether through training or through joint operations with their Armed Forces.
The excellent results achieved in recent years by the aerial campaigns of the Colombian Air Force (FAC) against drug trafficking, according to Colonel Luis Alfonso García Lozano, head of the 3rd Combat Air Command (Cacom), headquartered in the municipality of Malambo, Colombia, are due to joint agreements and operations with Central America.
García told the Colombian newspaper El Heraldo that, thanks to this, “the Colombian Air Force owns the night.”
The high-ranking officer specified that the excellent results achieved in fighting drug traffickers are due to the international agreements Colombia has signed with countries such as the United States, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, and more recently, the Dominican Republic, which have made it possible to put an end to illegal flights that violate international airspace.
“Joint efforts with allied countries resulted in a decrease of illegal flights, which entered or left the country at an average rate of 250 a year, and today (for the first quarter of 2012) only add up to a maximum of five, the entirety of which are neutralized by our aircraft,” Col. García said.
Cacom 3 operates from La Guajira to Urabá, an area that includes the entire Colombian Caribbean, an airspace that, in addition, is fully monitored by the South American pilots. The FAC in the Caribbean normally operates with two platforms, which are responsible for detecting and identifying illegal air traffic, and an average of 16 interceptor aircraft.
In Colombia, drug trafficking has been almost completely neutralized as an issue in its airspace, thanks to international treaties. The problem is located abroad, where drug traffickers fly, always at night, due to the lack of planes capable of detecting and neutralizing them.
This is a problem that Honduras has already detected, for example, and that for the moment, it has only been able to alleviate by destroying clandestine airstrips on its territory, which also borders the Caribbean.
“A few years ago, the Dominican Republic was dealing with an average of almost 200 illegal flights a year. At present, there are none, as a result of Operation Caribbean, which is now in its third stage: three years in which the seizure of almost 13,000 tons of cocaine hydrochloride has been achieved, in addition to that of 60 aircraft that were put out of use in that Caribbean country,” García said.
Normally, drug traffickers use single-engine planes, like the Cessna 206 and 210, and planes with light engines, like the B-50, Baron, and CNK, among others, while the aircraft used by the FAC are the A-29 Super Tucano and the A-37 Dragonfly, which are capable of flying both at night and day and can reach altitudes of up to 40,000 feet and speeds of over 600 kilometers an hour, as well as carrying detection equipment such as radar with a range of up to 240 miles, with a full set of the latest technology.
Col. García also said that the first air interdiction agreement that Colombia signed was with the United States, over a decade ago. At that time, Colombian aviators received training, instruction, general preparation, and equipment, with which the Colombian government has conducted joint operations. Today, he added, the FAC trains and develops pilot skills for friendly countries, as in the case of the Dominican Republic, for which six A-29 pilots and four radar operators have been trained with complete military instruction.
In the same way, Colombia also conducts periodic exercises focused on the interception of illegal flights with Honduras, known as Honcol, which provide sufficient muscle to pursue and seize small drug planes and their cargo in transit through the Central American region, from the southern part of the hemisphere to the north, headed for their American customers.
For Costa Rican Security Minister Mario Zamora, international cooperation is vital on this issue of fighting organized crime and drug trafficking.
“We understand that it’s a multinational fight, in which the contributions of the United States, Colombia, and Mexico have been very important. We’ve achieved a historic level of coordination among land, sea, and air forces, and that is what is achieving things,” he stated.
Specifically, members of the Costa Rican Coast Guard, part of a national security force, since that Central American country has not had armed forces for decades, receive training in Mexico, Colombia, and the United States.