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Argentina says it will shoot down planes to stop drug traffickers

Police officers during a drug raid in Buenos Aires, Argentina. File 2014. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Just a month after his inauguration, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has moved to authorize the air force to track and shoot down illegal smuggler’s aircrafts in the country. The move will allow the government to crack down on drug traffickers who use Argentina as a transit hub for exporting cocaine to sell around the world.

President Macri signed a decree declaring a national public security emergency on Jan. 19, which, along with the authorization to shoot down illegal and unresponsive aircraft, includes a new law enforcement cabinet and heightened border control, according to Insight Crime. The decree states that the threat of drug trafficking is severe enough to merit “the adoption of measures that allow for use of state resources to their full extent.”

The security announcement underscores the public’s growing concern about crime and public safety, and reflects Macri’s campaign pledge to tackle the drug trade once in office.

The president’s decision immediately sparked controversy over how to best address the rampant rise of drug trafficking and violence in Argentina. According to Wall Street Journal report, President Macri’s executive decree was made without consulting Congress. This drew harsh criticism among his left-leaning critics, many of whom believe the decision could hurt innocent civilians if the wrong plane were mistakenly targeted.

In a report in The Daily Mail, Macri’s critics have also compared the authority to shoot down unresponsive planes to a death sentence without trial. Security Secretary Eugenio Burzaco responded that the plan would only be used when drastic measures are called for, according to Latin One.

Shooting down drug flights in Latin America has been controversial since the Peruvian air force downed a small plane carrying U.S. missionaries in 2001, prompting an end to the policy, according to the Wall Street Journal report. But the policy has proved effective in Colombia, which has seen a dramatic reduction in drug flights between Central America and the Caribbean.

Drug trafficking and related violence has been on the forefront of Argentine politics over the last few years. The poorest regions of Buenos Aires are most strongly affected, where gang violence practically dominates the streets, as well as the outskirts of Rosario, where El Pais reports there are more than 200 drug-related deaths every year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, officials say drug smuggling and consumption have risen dramatically over the past decade. This may be, in part, because Argentina’s network of roads, waterways and ports appeal to drug traffickers who use Argentina as a transit hub for drugs being exported for sale in Europe and elsewhere.

Desperate for reform, many Argentines who support the decree say Macri’s aggressive stance is appropriate for tackling a system of narco-trafficking that is out of control.

“Each time that a plane is detected that doesn’t want to self-identify, they’re going to send them two alerts,” said Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich, who defended the measure on local television. “If they continue to not identify themselves, they will send a plane from the air force, who will ask them to land, and in the case they don’t cooperate and are hostile, they will resort to an extreme measure.”

According to El Pais, the minister also responded to criticism of another controversial action by the Macri government to send the army into towns ruled by the drug trade.

“We will be entering places where we consider the power to be in the hands of drug trafficking and not the state,” said Bullrich. “We’re going to do it confidentially; these are operations with confidential information.”

Regardless of the controversy stirred up by the anti-drug protocols, the question remains whether the new security policies will actually result in less trafficking, crime and drug violence for the people of Argentina.


About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at