Are Honduras Drug Flights Down 80% as Officials Claim?

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Officials from the United States and Honduras claim drug flights through the country are down 80 percent, but these statements should be approached cautiously as they have yet to provide any hard evidence of such dramatic success in tackling trafficking through the country.

While announcing the discovery of a “narco-plane” along the La Mosquitia coastline, Jorge Alberto Fernandez, commander of Honduras’ air force, repeated earlier claims that drug flights had dropped 80 percent over the last year or so, reported La Prensa.

This figure was first cited by John Kelly, US Southern Command (SouthCom) commander, who made the claim during a recent visit to Honduras with US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield.

Fernandez’s comments came shortly after the arrival of the first of three radar systems bought from Israel to detect drug flights earlier in March, and the passing of the “Law of Aerial Exclusion,” authorizing the air force to shoot down suspected drug flights, in January.

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The aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras saw drug traffickers move rapidly into the country, making it the principal air bridge between South America and the United States, overtaking previously common routes such as the island of Hispaniola. In 2012, the US State Department estimated that 75 percent of all northern bound cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first landed in Honduras.

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This development made Honduras an attractive destination for traffickers, as air transport is a relatively cost-efficient and less risky way of quickly transporting large amounts of drugs over large distances. In comparison, land and sea transport requires numerous logistical steps involving various people — each time multiplying the cost and risk.

The recent steps taken by the Honduran authorities to install radar and authorize the shooting down of drug planes suggests the country may finally be taking concrete action to try to address the country’s role as an air bridge. However, these measures have not had time to take effect and so there is no obvious reason why drug flights could have dropped by 80 percent, as stated.

Given this, and the lack of statistical evidence to support the claim, it seems too early for Honduras — or for the United States — to make such bold claims of success.

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