Honduras authorities detained two Mexican pilots as they attempted to take off from a commercial airport with the help of a "mafia" involving airport staff, according to the air force, indicating how official corruption can undermine attempts to halt the flow of illicit air traffic.
The two Mexican pilots were detained on July 6, carrying some 400 gallons of fuel and $12,000 aboard a plane they were planning to fly out of the Goloson International Airport in the city of La Ceiba, reported Proceso. The pair were arrested on charges of preparing to traffic illegal drugs, and authorities believe they were headed to the La Mosquitia region in eastern Honduras.
The accused had reportedly flown in from San Pedro Sula, asking for permission to land at Goloson to perform tests on the plane's motor. While there, they removed the seats from the plane to make room for the fuel, which they received from people waiting in nearby vehicles -- one of whom was also arrested, reported La Prensa.
According to La Ceiba Air Force Commander Javier Barrientos, evidence in the case strongly points to the collaboration of officials from the airport and from the city, who may have facilitated the pilots' entry into the country. He attributed the case to the actions of a "large mafia" operating out of the airport, and claimed employees from the control tower, airport security, and migration authorities "permitted these [types of] situations," reported Proceso.
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Recent years have seen a sharp increase in drug flights passing through Honduras with northern-bound cocaine shipments. This development was spurred in part by authorities clamping down on air traffic in neighboring Guatemala, as well as the chaos following the 2009 coup, which helped turn Honduras into a narco-storehouse.
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Both the previous government and the current administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez have made concerted efforts to reduce illicit drug flights, prioritizing the destruction of illegal airstrips, passing a shoot-down law in January and purchasing radar systems from Israel. One of the radars has already arrived in the country, while the other two are expected in August.
Nonetheless, the recent case indicates that systemic corruption also plays a role in facilitating aerial drug trafficking in Honduras, and will have to be addressed if authorities are to successfully combat drug flights.