Ten "narco-planes" used to smuggle drugs between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay have been found so far this year, suggesting that despite efforts by the three countries to monitor their borders, air trafficking routes remain well-used.
According to Cesar Guedes, Bolivia's United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative, traffickers trying to ship cocaine from Bolivia into Brazil or Argentina frequently travel first through Paraguay in order to "distract" authorities from their movements. And one of the favored forms of smuggling along this Paraguay route is by air, Guedes told La Razon.
Most of the drug planes discovered so far this year were found in Bolivia's eastern department of Santa Cruz (see InSight Crime's map below). The area is a hotbed for organized crime, and Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian groups all have a presence. Rather than fly directly into Brazil or Argentina, the "narco-planes" smuggle cocaine from Bolivia to Paraguay, where government control of the airspace is much weaker, Guedes said.
Bolivia and Paraguay have signed at least seven border security pacts since 1991, but the treaties have yet to translate into noticeable security improvements. This year, Paraguay has deployed planes to monitor the Bolivia frontier. But·the Fernando Lugo administration has moved away from making border policy their top security priority, choosing to instead to vest resources in battling the small and elusive EPP guerrilla group.
Another problem is the lack of equipment needed to track suspicious aircraft. For the past two years, Bolivian officials have spoken of plans to install an extensive radar system along the frontier, but the government needs another country to donate the technology, President Evo Morales has said.
Of the Southern Cone countries, Brazil has the strongest economy, giving it the necessary resources to improve monitoring of the region's airspace. This year, the country has deployed unmanned aircraft over Bolivia as part of a joint agreement to fight drug trafficking. Brazil also plans to use aircraft and satellites to monitor select border areas along Paraguay, under the terms of a deal signed in June.
Under President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has prioritized border defense and has invested $6.3 billion in a national strategy to secure the nation's 17,000 km frontier. This has already led to some tensions in the region, especially with Paraguay. Officials there have complained that Brazil is trying to militarize the frontier and cut down on legitimate trade activity.
But there is little doubt that "narco-planes" have found a comfortable transit zone in Paraguay. Aircraft are also used to smuggle contraband goods through that country. In one recent incident, São Paulo police discovered a plane loaded with electronic equipment trying to take off into Paraguay.
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