Bolivia has taken an important step towards reducing its key role in South America’s cocaine air bridge by agreeing to purchase radar equipment designed to detect drug planes.
On November 9, Bolivian Defense Minister Remy Ferreira signed an agreement to buy radar equipment valued at 200 million euros (roughly $215 million) from the French company Thales Air Systems, reported EFE. Bolivian President Evo Morales and French President François Hollande were also present for the signing, which took place at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Bolivia serves as the principal transit point in the so-called “cocaine air bridge” that connects one of the world’s largest cocaine producers, Peru, to the world’s second-largest consumer, Brazil.
Morales was optimistic the acquisition would improve his country’s ability to combat aerial drug trafficking. “The best agreement in the fight against drug trafficking is this transfer of radars to Bolivia,” Morales said.
The purchase of the French radars has been in the works for months, but negotiations had previously stalled due to lack of funds.
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Morales has reason for optimism. Radar equipment has previously been credited with drastically reducing drug flights in Colombia, and more recently in Honduras. Moreover, the lack of radars has consistently been identified as one of Bolivia’s key vulnerabilities in the fight against transnational drug trafficking. If the Andean nation manages to gain control over its airspace it could potentially reverse its growing role in South America’s resurgent cocaine air bridge.
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Radars should also enable Bolivia to better enforce other already-existing measures intended to reduce drug flights. Bolivia approved a plane intercept and shoot-down law in April 2014, but security forces have reportedly been unable to implement it due to lack of aerial monitoring equipment.
However, the installation of radar equipment is unlikely to act as a panacea for all of Bolivia’s drug trafficking problems. A number of factors have contributed to the country’s status as South America’s new drug hub, including largely intractable issues such as corruption and the continued cultivation of coca crops.