Honduras boosts air force in fight against drug smugglers

by Reuters
Friday, 17 October 2014 22:55 GMT

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Honduras bought two combat planes from Brazil's Embraer and received donated military aircraft worth $36 million from Taiwan, part of the Central American country's efforts to step up its fight against drug traffickers, a senior military official said on Friday.

Honduras's air defenses will be boosted by the acquisition of two Brazilian Super Tucano turboprop planes, Gen. Fredy Diaz told reporters, without disclosing the cost.

He also announced that an Embraer Legacy 600 jet, which will mostly be used to transport President Juan Hernandez and other dignitaries, and four U.S.-made UH-1H helicopters had been donated from Taiwan at a combined value of about $36 million.

Hernandez, who took office in January, has pledged to crack down on drug crime that has blighted Honduras with the world's highest murder rate of 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The Honduran Congress has given the green light to the air force to shoot down planes suspected of transporting drugs while traveling over Honduran airspace.

The United States had shared radar information with Honduras for tracking South American drug flights landing in the country, but suspended the agreement after the new law was approved.

Hernandez negotiated the Embraer deal while in Brazil over the summer, U.S. and Honduran officials say.

The meetings, which coincided with the Honduran national side's appearance in the soccer World Cup, received criticism after Hernandez was absent from a regional meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to tackle a surge in Central American child migrants heading to the United States.

Drug-related violence in Honduras has increased in recent years since Mexico's drug cartels expanded into the country, enlisting street gangs and using the country's Caribbean coast to transport South American cocaine to the United States.

Embraer is the world's third largest commercial planemaker. (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, writing by David Alire Garcia; editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Grant McCool)

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