No-fly Zone Proposed for Northeastern Honduras
"Police authorities identified 96 narcoavionetas last year, compared to 49 in 2010 and 16 in 2008. The trend is believed to be behind the rise in organized crime and gang violence in the country."
The Lobo government yesterday proposed the establishment of a no-fly zone over large segments of Honduras' northeastern departments of Colón and Yoro, as well as the Mosquitia region of Gracias a Dios. The area would measure at least 33,443.8 square kilometers (12,912.7 miles). The move, announced by the deputy head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Carlos Alberto Espinoza, would be designed to prevent "narco planes" (narcoavionetas) carrying illegal drugs from South America from flying through Honduran airspace. Dozens of these Cessna-size aircraft land in Honduras' remote regions each year and unload their shipments, which are then transported West along the country's northern highway and into Guatemala for delivery in Mexico and ultimately the lucrative consumer market in the United States.
The dramatic growth in the number of these flights during the past five years has lead to concerns that Honduras has become a "narco-state". Police authorities identified 96 narcoavionetas last year, compared to 49 in 2010 and 16 in 2008. The trend is believed to be behind the rise in organized crime and gang violence in the country.
The no-fly zone announcement was prompted by the violent confrontations at the Paso del Aguán ranch in the Bajo Aguán Valley during the past three days. A total of 11 people have been killed, and more injured. Also a factor is the confiscation yesterday of 15 packages containing 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of cocaine in the municipality of Arenal (Yoro). The shipment, valued at Lps 106 million (US$5.6 million), was dropped from a small plane.
Enforcement of the no-fly zone, which would require the approval of Congress, would likely occur overnight from 6 pm to 6 am for an unspecified period of time.
"We are studying [the no-fly zone proposal]," said Gen. Espinoza. "This is a project that has come up only three days after President Porfirio Lobo announced that in the next few days he would be sending to the National Congress a legislative package to address the insecurity and wave of violence in the country."
It is unclear what aircraft Honduras would use to enforce a no-fly zone. The country's air force includes nine Northrop F-5E Tiger II jet fighters, five Cessna A-37 Dragonfly attack aircraft, and approximately 35 additional in-service reconnaissance, trainer, transport, and utility aircraft, including nine helicopters.
In June, the Lobo administration expressed interest in purchasing a fleet of EMB 314 Super Tucano light attack aircraft from Embraer of Brazil. The turboprop Super Tucano, designed for counter-insurgency and pilot training roles, was developed for defense and security operations in the Amazon jungle. It is currently in use with the air forces of Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
Note: The Honduran government is weighing a purchase of EMB 314 Super Tucano light attack aircraft from Embraer of Brazil. The planes would be used for anti-drug trafficking operations. The turboprop Super Tucano, designed for counter-insurgency and pilot training roles, was developed for defense and security operations in the Amazon jungle. It is currently in use with the air forces of Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. The possible deal was discussed yesterday in Guatemala City by President Porfirio Lobo and Brazil's Minister of International Security, José Elito Carvalho Siqueira. Both President Lobo and Minister Carvalho were attending a regional security summit aimed at improving the capacity of Central American governments to combat narco-trafficking and organized crime. Brazil, which re-established full diplomatic relations with Honduras earlier this month, is also considering training and providing logistical assistance to the Honduran National Police to better respond to street crime and gang violence. The unit cost of a Super Tucano is US$9 million.
Source: Honduras Weekly (8/17/11)
Photo: Honduran Air Force F-5E Tiger II