Three New Radars Bolster Fight against Drug Trafficking in Argentina

Argentina installs three new radars on its northern border and initiates “Operation Defensa” to combat drug trafficking and smuggling.
Nastasia Barceló/Diálogo | 20 March 2017

Capacity Building

The inauguration of the radar in the town of Aguas Blancas, in the province of Salta, included the presence of Argentina’s Minister of Defense, Minister of Security, and members of the provincial government of Salta. (Photo: Ministry of Defense)

On February 8th, the Argentine Space Agency (COAE, per its Spanish acronym) started a new radar monitoring operation to prevent drug trafficking and smuggling in the north of the country. The monitoring of all radars installed in Argentina is carried out from COAE, a unit of the Ministry of Defense charged with pooling all of the incoming data from the radar system deployed across the country.

This event was attended by Minister of Defense Julio Martinez and Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich, as their ministerial portfolios are working in coordination to intensify efforts to maintain public safety and security.

“This enables us to crack down on all of the illegal flights coming into our country, some of which drop drugs or land. So this action, which is being taken jointly with the Ministry of Defense, is a key way of protecting the citizens of Argentina, keeping drugs from entering by air, which is one of the avenues of drug crime,” said Minister Bullrich in a statement to the Ministry of Defense news bureau.

Operation Defensa

Operation Defensa (Defense) was designed as part of President Mauricio Macri’s government plan, Argentina without Drug Trafficking. Its main objective is to fight drugs and contraband by stepping up air, land, and river security in border areas through increased air surveillance using radar around the clock. To achieve this, not only have three new radar units been added, but new airplanes have also been procured and their flight hours increased. In addition, authorities have stepped up the Army’s presence in border zones, especially at crossings used by migrants in La Quiaca, in the province of Jujuy, and in Aguas Blancas and Profesor Salvador Maza, in the province of Salta.

The northern border is the region with the most radar systems, allowing for greater surveillance of Argentine territory. Brigadier General Claudio Ernesto Pasqualini, who commands the Argentine Army’s 2nd Division known as “The Northern Army,” pointed out that “under the new administration, radars that were already installed, and new ones, changed over to 24-hour operation.” In previous years, the radars operated just a few hours a day, and there was less surveillance as a result.

On February 3rd the Ministry of Defense and the provincial government of Formosa agreed to install new radar in the town of Pirané and to improve the operation of other radar installed in Ingeniero Juárez.

All of the radar recently installed were manufactured by the Argentine company INVAP, which has close ties with state bodies such as the National Atomic Energy Commission and the National Commission on Space Activities. INVAP is the only company in Latin America to be certified by NASA.

Drug trafficking, a regional threat

“Our border with Bolivia is the most complicated area, where the highest level of organized crime is seen. It’s there that 25,000 tons of coca are produced each year and diverted to drug trafficking,” noted Carlos Alberto Ramírez, head of the General Directorate for International Defense Policy, a department under the Argentine Ministry of Defense. “It is estimated that there are seven cartels operating in our country already. They move drugs from the north of the country, from the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, and distribute them out of Buenos Aires and in our three-country border region with Brazil and Paraguay. New mobile checkpoints will also be set up since that’s a high-traffic zone, with over nine million people passing through each year.”

Brig. Gen. Pasqualini said that since mid-2016, joint operations between military members, police officers, and gendarmerie agents have been conducted along the northern border. “Since the new administration took office, these operations have been resumed, and with them, the Army has once again become the main actor in the fight against organized crime. In the past, the involvement of our country’s main force had been suspended.”

By law, Argentina forbids the military from taking part in public safety issues, including drug trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism. However, Minister Martínez and President Macri have repeatedly acknowledged the urgent need for the military to join in the war on drugs. “We consider it fundamental to join forces on an issue that so threatens society at large and the joint work done by the Armed Forces and security agents is an example of that,” Brig. Gen. Pasqualini concluded.

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