An Argentine security official claims interdiction efforts against fluvial and land-based trafficking have spurred a sharp rise in drug flights. But improved radar coverage and an overall growth in drug trafficking are more likely to blame for the shift.
Argentina's Deputy Secretary for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking, Martín Verrier, told La Nación that the rising number of detected illegal flights entering the country this year "is due to the fact that there are increased controls along land and fluvial routes."
In May 2017, Argentina's security ministry announced the detection of 200 suspected drug flights during the first four months of 2017, a threefold increase in comparison to the same period in 2016.
Meanwhile, the federation that represents Argentina's aviation clubs (Federación de Aeroclubes de Argentina - FADA) warned La Nación that the theft of planes from flying clubs is a "new phenomenon." FADA's vice president explained that certain types of small aircraft are increasingly being stolen by drug traffickers because they can be loaded with up to half a metric ton of drugs and need just 300 meters of runway to land on any of Argentina's estimated 1,500 illegal airstrips.
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Argentina has increased its interdiction efforts against drug trafficking since President Mauricio Macri took power in December 2015. But it is too early to assert that these changes are what is causing trafficking routes to shift.
For example, authorities launched a border security plan in May 2016 called "Border Operations" (Operativo Fronteras), which includes investment in interdiction technology and a greater involvement of the military. But by May 2017, authorities had yet to implement the first step of the $46 million plan, specifically dedicated to land border control.
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The fact that the authorities have gradually expanded their radar coverage from 6 to 24 hours a day since August 2016 is probably a better explanation for the growth in detected drug flights. By November 2016, officials were already reporting a monthly average of 40 illegal flights from Bolivia alone, while new radars installed this year have further expanded Argentina's monitoring coverage.
An increase in drug flights is also likely a reflection of growing drug trafficking activity in Argentina as a whole, evidenced by rising seizures, growing domestic consumption and expanding microtrafficking.