The Sinaloa Cartel and other drug trafficking organizations take advantage of Central American airspace

By Dialogo
December 27, 2013

With increased frequency, planes loaded with cocaine land and take off on makeshift runways in unpopulated or jungle regions of Central America. The Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, and other transnational criminal organizations are benefiting from the region’s airspace to smuggle hundreds of kilos of drugs coming from South America to the United States.
The army and security forces of Guatemala and Honduras disabled dozens of illegal runways last year.
For the last two or three years in Mexico, radars given to the Armed Forces of Mexico through the Merida Initiative have been working at 100%, said Raúl Benítez Manaut, director of the Collective Security Analysis for Democracy (CASEDE).
“Many aircraft that used to make the direct flight from Colombia or Venezuela to southeast Mexico can no longer do so. Aircraft loaded with hundreds of kilos of cocaine are landing in Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica,” Benítez Manaut said.
The runways are a kilometer long, but recently, runways 2.5 kilometers long have been found.
The planes are usually the Caravan or Cessna type, which can carry from 600 kg to one ton of cocaine.
Mexico’s violent Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels, as well as Colombian cartels, are responsible for the increasing invasion of Central America’s airspace, according to Central American authorities.
Colonel Erick Escobedo, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense of Guatemala, recently told BBC news that “the problem goes beyond Central America.”
“The security threats have transnational effects because Mexican cartels do not respect borders, seas, or countries,” Escobedo said.
The Sinaloa Cartel, led by the fugitive drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, and Los Zetas have moved 90 percent of their operations into Central America to traffic cocaine to the United States, according to the UN,
The U.S. Government estimates that more than 80 percent of the main flow of cocaine trafficking to the United States first passes through the Central American corridor, according to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) by the U.S. State Department.
The report indicates that local and international drug-trafficking organizations exploit the “weak public institutions and widespread corruption in Guatemala” to move drugs, people, and cash.
Through four local gangs such as Los Lorenzana and Los Mendoza, the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas are fighting over the Guatemalan region.
Since last year, Guatemalan army soldiers have destroyed at least 50 illegal runways in the department of Petén, in the north of the country, one of the places with the largest concentrations of drugs on the entire isthmus.

According to the news agency AGN, the situation changed in October 2011, once the first radar in Costa Rica went into operation and narco-planes changed their flight path to Honduran airspace.
The United States estimates that 87% of all illicit flights carrying cocaine from South America stop in Honduras. The region is vulnerable to drug trafficking because of its “remoteness, lack of infrastructure, and low presence of government forces.”
Of the 330 tons of cocaine that entered Mexico through Guatemala in 2010, 267 tons first passed through Honduras, a country where 62 illegal airstrips were detected in 2012 alone, officials informed.
In Honduras, there are more than 200 illegal runways in the region near the Atlantic Ocean, “which makes the place one of the most active drug corridors in the world.” The Sinaloa Cartel controls the movement of drugs in the region, Honduran Vice Minister of Defense, Carlos Roberto Funes, told Clarín.
In December 2013, Defense Minister Marlon Pascua, said the Armed Forces of Honduras have disabled 100 irregular runways so far this year.
The regions where aircraft carrying drugs have been detected include Petén, Guatemala, the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and La Mosquita, in Honduras.
This phenomenon began when Colombian cartels gave space to Mexican cartels. The irregular flow of aircraft increased in 2006 with the implementation of the Mexican security strategy of Mexican against drug cartels, said Ana Glenda Tager Rosado, Director of the International Peacebuilding Alliance (Interpeace) for Latin America.
Although the majority of shipments move by land or sea, Central American countries “are feeling a greater flow of cocaine trafficking, but the cocaine trafficking is the same; the drugs have to land before continuing en route,” Benítez Manaut commented.
“For years, criminal organizations have been buying rural property, using them as landing strips to be able to increase profits,” Tager Rosado said.
On June 28, a Cessna type plane flying over Guatemalan territory without authorization crashed in a wooded area in the community of San Marcos, killing its occupants, five Mexicans and a Venezuelan.
The aircraft had taken off from the Mexican state of Chiapas. The victims were presumably linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. Army soldiers seized approximately US$2 million from the aircraft, officials said.

The fact that the problem extends beyond Central America and this organization cannot be stopped in spite of all technological advances is because corruption is widespread in our Administration. I agree, only the international alliance and the war against drug-trafficking will make its defeat possible. In Venezuela, breaking away from the alliance has caused the problem to sky-rocket to unimaginable magnitudes. We can state that our country has become a drug trafficking headquarters. We warned about it more than twenty years ago.