A few weeks ago the United States suspended the sharing of anti-drug radar information with the Government of Honduras. A week later US military personnel proceeded to disassemble the long-range radar and physically removed the machinery from the base at Puerto Lempira. This equipment was then ferried to La Ceiba, where it was loaded on to a giant C5 transport plane and another aircraft and flown out of the country.
This radar was the primary source of early notification of drug-running aircraft from South America entering Honduran airspace. These airplanes never use the standard flight paths and almost always come in at night, using the darkness as a cloak to evade detection and deliver their illicit cargo to some clandestine landing strip in this country.
According to news reports, the radar was removed because of a violation of an agreement between the two nations that prohibited the shooting down of civilian aircraft. I don’t know of any non-civilian aircraft used in the drug-running business.
According to the press, there were two incidents in July, and in one of them there was supposed to be a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent on board. Before anyone could question the reason for the agent being on board a drug-running airplane, US authorities published a statement vehemently denying that any agent of the US Government was aboard either of the aircraft that was shot down.
I don’t understand what the US is trying to accomplish, because as we all know from reading the papers, drug running is a dangerous endeavor, and lives are lost in the transportation of drugs, some in boats, some in submarines and some in aircraft.
Interdiction is the best deterrent against the smugglers that are using this country as a byway for drugs en route to the US. Apparently, the US authorities do not see it that way and have begun the cut back on equipment needed to continue the fight against the smuggling of a substance that is the driving force behind most of the violence we are experiencing in this country.
In May there was an incident in La Mosquitia where rice planters on their way to work were shot at from a helicopter, and some of them were killed. In this incident there is no doubt that there were DEA agents on board. The incident was at night, and it is understandable that the shooting could have been an accident. In this case the US authorities deny that any of their agents fired at the pitpan (dugout canoe).
The shooting down of these aircraft, the removal of the radar and its political ramifications send a very powerful message to the people in the drug business: Honduras is wide open for aerial drug trafficking.
The US Government is fighting the drug problem the wrong way. The US Coast Guard and other US Government agencies are going all over the world trying to prevent drugs from entering the US. They have taken on an impossible task, because as long as there is market for something, someone will supply that something.
According to a spokesperson for the US Coast Guard, it is believed that three-quarters of all shipments from South America are making it into the US. If they are winning only one-quarter of the battles, then they are losing the war. Some tactical changes have to be made, and there is more work to be done at home. They must stop fighting the drug war from the White House and start fighting it from the Pentagon.
The US penalizes the transportation and the sale of illegal drugs but seldom punishes the users of those drugs. The user is the root cause of the drug problem. This is a sad affair indeed. [/private]