The United States has ended the sharing of intelligence from anti-narcotics radars with Honduras in a predictable response to Honduras passing a law permitting the shooting down of drug planes.
US officials confirmed to El Heraldo that on March 23 the United States halted the practice of providing their Honduran counterparts with radar information on the movements of suspect airplanes.
The decision was taken after Honduras approved a law permitting such planes to be shot down, which according to the official who spoke to El Heraldo, "is not compatible with US laws that regulate certain types of security assistance."
The official did not comment on whether the move was to be a temporary or a permanent suspension and added that cooperation in maritime interdictions would continue.
The issue was discussed prior to the passing of the law when US State Department Official William Brownfield met with new Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in February. However, Hernandez dismissed Brownfield's concerns over the possibility of civilian casualties and declared it "a sovereign right," to shoot down planes in their airspace, reported El Heraldo.
In addition to the shoot down law, Honduras has also purchased three new radar systems to tackle aerial trafficking, the first of which is now opertional. However, drug traffickers are already adapting to the new radar system by switching flights direct from South America for shorter flights that move into Honduras via Nicaragua, which helps avoid detection, reported El Heraldo.
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This is not the first time the United States has suspended cooperation with Honduras in tracking drug flights by radar. In 2012, cooperation was halted for four months after Honduras shot down two suspected drug planes, which US officials said was a violation of a bilateral agreement.
However, the policy behind the United States' refusal to aid countries in shooting down drug planes is not limited to Honduras and can be traced to an incident in 2001 when the Peruvian air force shot down a plane killing a US missionary and her infant child. At the time, US forces were cooperating closely with the Peruvian air force in shooting down drug planes as part of the Air Bridge Denial program.
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US policy on drug plane shoot downs was made clear before Honduras passed the law, raising the question of why the government pushed ahead anyway. With Honduras' new radar system now in use, it may be the government believes it does not require further US assistance in this area. Alternatively, they may be hoping that the suspension once again proves temporary.