Radar the Key Tool in Drug War?

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Guatemala, Brazil and Bolivia are in the process of obtaining advanced radar technology for aerial interdiction, a strategy that has proven effective at combating drug flights in the region, forcing traffickers in Colombia to develop submarine technology.

Guatemalan authorities are in the process of installing the first of four radars capable of detecting flights 200 kilometers away, reported Prensa Libre. The country is building a platform for the radar in southern Guatemala and plans to begin using the equipment by September 1. The other three radars will be located in the northern, eastern and central regions of the country and should be in place by the second half of 2015 (see Prensa Libre map below).    

In Brazil, the Air Force received the first of five E-99M radar aircrafts in May. The E-99M is a newer version of an aircraft the country has used in the Amazon region since 2002. It can reportedly identify and track a larger amount of air traffic.

Bolivia has also taken steps towards acquiring a radar system. A law passed in April allowing authorities to shoot down suspected drug planes also included provisions for the acquisition of radar. According to InfoSur Hoy, Bolivian authorities are working with their Brazilian counterparts to identify strategic sites for radar in the border region.

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Aerial interdiction could have massive impact in Bolivia, which serves as an air bridge for drug flights leaving Peru en route to Brazil. Peru’s VRAEM region — the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys — sees an estimated three to four drug flights a day, with up to 20 tons of cocaine exiting the region every month, much of which is flown to Bolivia and on to Brazil. For Brazil, its expansive shared border with drug producing nations is a major challenge.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia

In Guatemala, interdiction efforts have already helped shift drug flights into neighboring Honduras. Even so, the country destroyed more than 50 illegal landing strips last year, indicating illegal air traffic remains a problem. Guatemala’s acquisition of radar will also aid its neighbors — according to the Defense Ministry, authorities plan to notify other countries of illegal flights passing through Guatemalan airspace that do not land there. 

Radars have been hugely successful at combating aerial drug trafficking in Colombia. The country has seen a drastic reduction in illegal air traffic, from 600 illegal flights detected in 2002 to only three in the first ten months of 2012. Radar installations are also being used to combat rising drug trafficking through the Caribbean territories of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. However, drug traffickers have proved highly adaptable, turning instead to maritime routes or rerouting flight paths. Colombian groups in particular have pioneered the use of semi-submersible vessels and even proper submarines capable of moving up to seven tons of cocaine every trip.

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