Bolivia’s anti-narcotics agency announced it has seized ten planes and destroyed 10 clandestine landing strips so far this year, indication of the country’s importance as a transit point and air bridge for the South American drug trade.
Colonel Gonzalo Quezada, director of Bolivia’s Special Anti-Narcotics Police (FELCN), made the announcement on December 18, adding that the planes had a total value of $1.5 million, reported La Razon.
Quezada stated that the planes were being used to create an “air bridge” connecting Peru to markets in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and that this method was being employed because of interdiction efforts of land routes along the Peru-Bolivia border.
According to La Razon, in 2012 Bolivian authorities also discovered 37 cocaine processing laboratories and have seized some 36 tons of cocaine, much of which came from Peru.
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The discovery of ten “narco” planes so far this year is likely represent but a fraction of successful drug flights passing through Bolivian airspace. For example, Paraguay’s anti-drug agency SENAD estimated in August that between 3 and 5 drug flights enter Paraguay every week, the majority of which come from Bolivia. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime highlighted this route last year as a path being increasingly favored by cocaine smugglers.
The Bolivian Ministry of Defense is pushing for a law that would allow the military to shoot-down down illegal flights moving through Bolivian airspace which do not respond. In addition to this, Bolivia’s interior minister, Carlos Romero, announced last month that the country had agreed on a set of protocols with Peru and Brazil which would allow the shoot down of suspect flights.
Peru is due to install two radars installations along its border to help track drug flights, while Brazil recently agreed to allow Bolivia access to its radar stations, as Bolivia lacks its own facilities, Romero stated.