Honduran military cracks down on narco-flights
By Dialogo October 02, 2013
The Honduran military is making great strides in cracking down on airborne drug trafficking operations, said Gen. Miguel Palacios Romero, the leader of the Honduran Air Force.
The crackdown has reduced the number of narco-flights in Honduran air space by 50 percent, Palacios said during an interview in early September 2013.
In August, the Honduran Air Force intercepted six airplanes that were transporting drugs, according to Palacios. That indicates that there are far fewer narco-flights taking place in Honduran air space than there have been in recent years, the general said.
In recent years, “three to five airplanes landed daily in the country,” the Palacios explained. “We can say without a doubt that all of that has decreased.”
Collaborative security operation
The operation to crack down on narco-flights was launched in July 2012, with “Operation Armadillo.” Drug traffickers often use small aircraft to transport cocaine, synthetic drugs, heroin, marijuana and cash. The Honduran Armed Forces and the National Police are collaborating on the security initiative. T
he military methodically identified dozens of clandestine air strips used by drug traffickers, then destroys them. Many of the secret landing spots were in the eastern region of La Mosquita, a remote area which can only be reached by plane or boat.
The Honduran Defense Ministry has identified 200 secret air strips, and has destroyed more than 60 of them, authorities said.
A transshipment point
Honduran security forces seized more than 5,000 kilos of cocaine and 20,000 kilos of pseudoephedrine, which is used in the production of the drug known as “ecstasy,” authorities said. Honduras is a key transshipment point for drug traffickers who transport cocaine from South America to Mexico and the United States. Up to 79 percent of all cocaine-laden flights from South America stop in Honduras, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. State Department.
Discovery of narco-plane
On Aug. 17, 2013, security forces investigated a partially incinerated plane on a clandestine air strip in the village of La Leona, in the northern department of Atlántida. The aircraft’s tail, which would have included an identifying flag, and a wing had been cut off. The airplane was surrounded by thick African palm trees.
Authorities suspect the plane had been used by narco-traffickers.
“We believe the broken parts of the plane were thrown into the river or the crew buried them, which they do so that we are not able to identify where the drugs come from,” a police agent told the local press after the remnants of the plane were discovered. Local residents notified authorities, who quickly responded to the scene.
Hours before the discovery, two Honduran Air Force planes had detected the aircraft, at around 4 a.m., authorities said. The unidentified aircraft was apparently trying to land in La Mosquitia. When the pilot of the plane became aware it the flight had been detected by the Air Force, he or she diverted it west toward La Leona, near the port of Tela, authorities said.
Authorities suspect the airplane carried 1000 kilos of cocaine.
“The plane had capacity for that (amount),” said Captain José Jorge Fortín,the Naval Forces commander who participated in the operation.
Drug trafficking zone
Drug traffickers have operated in the eastern zone of La Mosquita for many years. It is a prime choice for drug traffickers because it is remote and difficult to reach.
In addition to landing narco-planes in La Mosquita, organized crime
operatives also process drugs in the region, Defense Vice Minister Carlos Fúnez
In La Mosquita, “we have found heavy equipment used for processing cocaine in
areas where there is no access,” Fúnez said.
The ongoing destruction of the clandestine air strips are a positive
development, said attorney Rodolfo Dumas, who writes a column for a national
newspaper. Security forces must continue to be vigilant in fighting transnational
criminal organizations, Dumas explained.
“Nobody has the magic solution to unilaterally fight a highly-organized enemy
which has more resources than the State,” says the analyst, for whom any effort in
the battle will require the strengthening of international alliances.
“However,” he adds, “I believe Honduras confronts this issue in a less
serious manner than it should.”
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