Bolivia announced it is finalizing a new law that will allow the security forces to intercept drug trafficking flights, although such “shoot-down” strategies have been implemented in Bolivia before and didn’t do much to radically change the dynamics of the drug trade.
On August 27, the Bolivian Ministry of Defense announced that it was finalizing two new initiatives that will allow the government to intercept and shoot down planes suspected of drug trafficking, as well as helping the country fight other illicit smuggling operations such as weapons and contraband.
According to Los Tiempos, the initiatives include the creation of an “Integrated Aerial Defense System” comprised of a radar system for detecting planes, guard stations, and available airplanes for intercepting unauthorized aircraft. Once the drafts are finished, they will need to be submitted to Bolivia’s Congress for approval.
In 2011, President Evo Morales first requested approval from Congress for a law permitting authorities to take down aircraft used in drug trafficking, stating at a public event, “These drug planes do not obey our instructions and continue flying; I feel it is important that we be provided with a law to take down those planes.”
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Bolivia appears to be becoming an increasingly important transit and jump-off point for drug trafficking planes. In 2011, Bolivian authorities discovered ten “narco-planes” used to smuggle drugs between Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that this tri-state route was favored by traffickers.
The US implemented a shoot-down strategy in the Andean region through its “Air Bridge Denial Strategy” in the 1990s, though the move failed to produce notable results in preventing the flow of cocaine through the area. US officials admitted that their efforts at best inconvenienced traffickers, but did not impact the overall amount of cocaine leaving Bolivia and reaching the US.
Venezuela also recently adopted a “shoot-down” policy for suspected drug flights. However, according to a recent New York Times report, the Venezuelan border state of Apure is still plagued by aerial traffickers, partly because security forces have failed to do enough to destroy airstrips, or track the ones that are reported destroyed but are later retaken by drug traffickers. This suggests that instituting a “shoot-down” policy alone will not be enough to discourage drug flights.