Honduras Began 2017 by Destroying Three Clandestine Airstrips

Since its creation, FUSINA has dismantled 143 clandestine landing areas.
Kay Valle/Diálogo | 21 February 2017

Transnational Threats

In 2017, FUSINA authorities dismantled three ACAs used for transporting drugs. Another 140 areas were disabled between 2014 and 2016. (Photo: FUSINA)

Honduras has a strong commitment to reducing the flow of narcotics and the start of the new year brings continuity to this goal. In January, the Inter-institutional Security Force (FUSINA, per its Spanish acronym) disabled three landing strips used by criminal structures.

Located in remote areas and with little infrastructure, these Clandestine Landing Areas (ACAs, per their Spanish acronym) are equipped by organized crime to receive drugs by air, Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, FUSINA spokesperson, reported. “In the first few days of operations in 2017, FUSINA disabled three ACAs, one located in the village of Tapón de Oro, another in the municipality of Baracoa, and the third in the municipality of Brus Laguna, all of which are in the country’s Atlantic region.”

Edgardo Mejía, security analyst and professor at the Honduran National Police University, believes that destroying these types of airstrips shows FUSINA’s commitment to confront those who collaborate with organized crime.

“The destruction of these areas is a clear demonstration of the operational readiness of Honduran law enforcement, and it evidences the government’s commitment to go against the actions of international drug traffickers and organized crime,” he said. “The results can be measured by the number of drug seizures, the assets confiscated, the number of people arrested for illicit activity, and other meaningful actions against these activities.”

Authorities disabled 54 ACAs in 2014; 60 in 2015; 26 in 2016; and three so far in 2017. During FUSINA’s three years of operation, military members also confiscated more than15,000 kilos of cocaine, almost 132,000 pounds of marijuana, and more than $15 million in cash.

Technology and strategies

For FUSINA, destroying the ACAs means decreasing the chance of drugs entering Honduran territory by air, according to Lt. Col. Nolasco.

“The majority of these landing strips are built in areas that have a flat topography and that are isolated from population centers. They vary in size, from 15 meters wide and 1,000 meters long to 20 meters wide and two kilometers long. In order to destroy a landing area, we detonate up to six charges, which create craters that are five meters deep,” Lt. Col. Nolasco explained.

Because of the geographic characteristics of ACAs, criminal groups that transport drugs prefer using single-seat airplanes. This type of aircraft can be easily acquired. It is made from ultra-light, inexpensive materials, and has a carrying capacity of up to 250 kilos.

The majority of clandestine airstrips in Honduras are detected in the area of La Mosquitia

Lt. Col. Nolasco clarified that once FUSINA law enforcement officers disable an airstrip, surveillance teams permanently monitor the area so that criminals cannot rebuild it. “When they are in remote areas, the surveillance is done through technology,” he said.

According to Mejía, the government is combating a criminal platform that has enormous financial and logistical resources with a clear focus on saturating the country with drugs.

“In confronting this problem, with this disparity of resources, the government is showing its enormous political and institutional will to get positive results in the fight against drug trafficking.”

Preventive actions

Lt. Col. Nolasco told Diálogo that the flow of drugs into Northern Triangle countries decreased significantly after Honduras set up land, air, and maritime shields within the framework of Operation Morazán.

In addition to locating small aircraft, FUSINA stopped other forms of transport. “We found drugs on mini-submarines, hidden among the cargo on large vessels, transported by people in small quantities, inside live animals like cattle, in automobiles, and the most unusual, in pots of honey which had a false bottom full of cocaine. This seizure took place at the border with Guatemala,” Lt. Col. Nolasco said.

In Mejía’s opinion, the authorities are going to use extraordinary measures to enhance prevention. “As a first step, we should implement a strategy at the judicial level that will allow the government to commandeer these areas that are used as clandestine airstrips. The second step is to build military and police barracks on this repossessed land. As a third step, establishing permanent operations to create an exclusion zone in Gracias a Dios, Guanaja, and Trujillo,” he said.

Destroying ACAs is a permanent mission since criminality is a constant threat for Honduras, said Lt. Col. Nolasco. “Success is rooted in the joint work of partner nations and institutions.”

The state’s policies reflected in FUSINA allow for resources to be optimized and for help to be received from partner nations. “U.S. Southern Command is one of our main allies in the fight against drug trafficking,” Lt. Col. Nolasco concluded.

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