Honduras’ congress has approved a drug plane shoot-down policy aimed at attacking the cocaine air bridge into the country, a policy Bolivia seems set to emulate.
The “Law of Aerial Exclusion” authorizes the Air Force to shoot down suspected drug planes flying through the country’s airspace at the orders of the defense secretary, legislator Marvin Ponce told EFE. The law also establishes an “exclusive aerial zone” in certain Caribbean provinces of Honduras that are common entry points for drug consignments and limits night flights throughout the country, reported El Heraldo.
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Ponce — the only legislator to vote against the law — expressed concern that it violated an international accord prohibiting the shooting down of civilian airplanes.
In Bolivia, similar shoot-down legislation titled the “Law of Security and Defense of the Bolivian Airspace” has been passed through the lower Chamber of Representatives and awaits approval by the Senate, reported La Razon. Bolivian President Evo Morales has also expressed plans to acquire radar technology, which the country currently lacks, reported El Deber.
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Honduras and Bolivia are both major air bridges in the region’s drug route, with Bolivia a common stopover for Peruvian cocaine heading to Brazil, while the US State Department estimates up to 87 percent of cocaine flights heading north from South America pass through Honduras.
In Honduras, the shoot-down policy is just one of several recent measures taken by Honduras’ outgoing administration that may provide incoming president Juan Orlando Hernandez with improved crime-fighting tools. In December, President Porfirio Lobo removed controversial national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla and announced the $30 million acquisition of radar from Israel.
Countries like Peru have previously witnessed considerable success with shoot-down policies — under President Alberto Fujimori, this strategy pushed Colombian traffickers to move coca production to their home country. However, they are also politically risky, with Peru’s policy suspended after US missionaries were accidentally shot down in 2001.
A key question is how Honduras will implement the strategy. Both the United States and Colombia are important strategic partners and Honduras will want to avoid blunders that could lead to a suspension of aid, as happened with the shooting down of two civilian planes in 2012.