US Donates Aircraft to Bolivia Anti-Drug Fight

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The United States has donated 12 aircraft to the Bolivian Air Force for use in counternarcotics operations, indicating that despite a rocky relationship, anti-drug cooperation between the two countries continues.

Though the aircraft — which include eight UH-1H helicopters, one King Air plane, and three C-130 planes — have been used by the Bolivian air force in anti-drug operations for years under US management, the current decision formally cedes the fleet to Bolivia.

US Embassy officials in La Paz said that the decision was made in keeping with the United States’ “permanent backing” of Bolivia in anti-drug trafficking efforts.

The helicopters in the fleet will be operated by the elite air force unit “Diablos Rojos” (Red Devils), while the planes will be used by the “Diablos Negros” (Black Devils).

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The United States has had strained relations with Bolivia over counternarcotics operations since 2008, when President Evo Morales expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from the country, after accusing them of spying. Since then, the United States has maintained Bolivia on its blacklist for non-compliance with anti-drug commitments, reiterating these criticisms in the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy report.

However, behind the rhetorical bluster the two countries have continued to cooperate in areas such as monitoring coca cultivation. The decision to give Bolivia formal ownership of the 12 aircraft appears to be a goodwill gesture aimed at continuing this cooperation and improving relations.

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