Has Honduras Shutdown its Cocaine Air Bridge?

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Honduran officials claim to have blocked nearly all drug flights through their airspace as part of improved interdiction efforts, a claim backed by their US allies. If true there must have been a switch in cocaine trafficking routes.

Only two drug flights have landed in Honduras so far this year, a 98 percent reduction from the 106 in 2011, El Nuevo Diario quoted Police Operations Chief Hector Ivan Mejia as saying. 

The reduction is part of improved anti-narcotics efforts following the launch of an air, sea and land interdiction program in 2014 as well as cooperation with US authorities, Mejia was quoted as saying. 

General John Kelly, the head of US Southern Command, has issued similar optimistic statements. A few years ago “the majority of cocaine, by sea or air, arrived in Honduras, before passing through Guatemala and onto Mexico,” Kelly said in an interview with El Heraldo

However cooperation between US and Honduran security forces greatly increased with the arrival of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in 2014. As a result “Honduras is no longer the number one country, it’s number five in terms of drug arrivals,” Kelly said. 

InSight Crime Analysis

While it is always difficult to accurately ascertain figures on clandestine activities like drug flights, there are reasons to believe Honduras’ air security has improved. 

In the wake of Honduras’ 2009 coup, the United States suspended cooperation on drug operations. Drug flights reportedly began to surge through the then-radarless Honduras. 

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

In 2014 Honduras greatly improved its air interdiction capabilities with the purchase of mobile radar towers and a new law allowing authorities to shoot down suspicious aircraft. Meanwhile, as Kelly noted, US-Honduran relations normalized, with the Central American nation once again receiving US drug cooperation. 

On the local scene, Honduras has been able to capture and extradite numerous high-level traffickers. This has included leadership of Honduras’ top criminal groups the Valles and the Cachiros. These extraditions have reportedly thrown the Honduran underworld into chaos, which likely makes it harder to safely land drug flights without fear of being robbed by other criminals. 

So while it’s likely Honduras has sharply curtailed its once busy cocaine air bridge, it remains to be seen how traffickers will adjust. Authorities in neighboring El Salvador believe traffickers are increasingly turning to maritime routes in response to greater air and land interdiction efforts. Traffickers in Honduras, which has an even longer coastline, may take a similar tactic. 

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