Argentine authorities claim that an average of 40 drug flights departing from Bolivia cross the border every month, an estimate that may be colored by political factors but nevertheless reflects actual dynamics of the regional drug trade.
Authorities assert that each flight drops 400 to 500 kilograms of drugs in Argentina, reported La Nación. At the rate of more than one flight per day, estimates suggest up to 20 metric tons of drugs may be shipped into Argentina using this method each month.
Argentine intelligence officials reportedly communicated these estimates to Bolivian Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira during a joint aerial operation between the two countries.
The frequency of clandestine flights may be aggravated by the state of Argentina's air force, which lacks sufficient operational jets and qualified pilots to intercept and interdict drug flights. The country's whole Mirage jet fighter fleet has been decommissioned, and only a few FMA IA-58 Pucará and Lockheed Martin A-4AR attack aircraft are still in service, according to Infodefensa.
Current President Macri has blamed the drug flights on his predecessor Cristina Kirchner's administration for cutting defense budgets and reducing the country's aerial capacities. Macri's government has announced of several major future acquisitions of various military planes from European and US suppliers since his election in 2015.
InSight Crime Analysis
Amid increasing concern about drug use and drug-related crime in Argentina, neighboring Bolivia provides a convenient scapegoat for Argentine officials looking to deflect some of the blame for the growing problem. Moreover, Macri's administration has promoted a militarized approach to combating organized crime and the drug trade, even going so far as to authorize the shooting down of planes suspected of carrying drugs -- a practice that critics say is akin to extrajudicial execution. Highlighting the role of drug flights from Bolivia may help his administration justify this controversial approach. Additionally, statement came on the heels of announcements concerning the 2017 military budget.
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At the same time, it is clear that Bolivia plays an important role in Argentina's drug trade. Although Bolivia produces far less coca and cocaine than its neighbors Colombia and Peru, it is a key transit country for the drug. And in addition to overland trafficking, crime groups operating in Bolivia have previously been implicated in aerial drug transport in the Southern Cone region.
Home-grown Bolivian criminal organizations tend to be relatively small, local and family-based, and much of the drug trade in the country is controlled by Colombian groups like the Urabeños. However, there have also been recent indications that Brazil's main gangs, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) may be stepping up their operations in the Andean nation. Bolivia's Vice Minister of Social Defense Felipe Cáceres García recently stated that "these cartels send emissaries with money to Bolivia to amass drugs, and along the border with Brazil and the Chiquitania [region], to assemble laboratories to start to refine coca paste into cocaine hydrochloride."