MX Borderland Beat Milenio
Mexico is a huge clandestine airport for drug trafficking. In the last 20 years, the Army discovered and destroyed 10,611 airstrips created by drug cartels to move drugs, weapons and personnel across the country.
To understand the level of air operations of organized crime groups in Mexican territory, a comparison is need. Nearly 11,000 clandestine airways were discovered and destroyed by the Army in remote areas and jungles across Mexico. That is very close numerically to the approximately 13,100 official airports throughout the United States, the country with the most aerial facilities on the planet.
7,740 clandestine runways were destroyed from 2000 to 2010, while between 2010 and 2019 an additional 3,141 airstrips were destroyed, according to data provided by the Army through their transparency law.
Locations and market share
A single cartel dominated the air sector. 50% of the 1,555 clandestine tracks destroyed by the Army between 2013 and 2018 were in only six municipalities. These municipalities fall within the area of influence of the Sinaloa Cartel, which is recognized for using and contracting pilots for their operations.
These municipalities on the list included Ensenada and Mexicali, in Baja California; Guadalupe y Calvo, in Chihuahua; Badiraguato, in Sinaloa; Caborca, in Sonora; and Tamazula, in Durango. These locations highlight two very important factors: that they are located in the Golden Triangle and that they have presence near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Military reports indicate that the nation’s narco-air capital is the municipality of Ensenada, with a total of 303 runways destroyed over six years. Army reports reveal that the largest number of clandestine tracks destroyed between 2013 and 2018 was recorded in Baja California with 442 cases.
Several reports indicate that the above is largely due to the geographical location that allows a closer proximity to the border, which allows for drug trafficking to reduce costs by operating so close to the border.
In second place is Sonora with 391 destroyed tracks, followed by Chihuahua with 341, Sinaloa with 205 and Durango with 143. The remaining 33 air tracks were divided into six different states.
On the other hand, the municipality of Mexicali, Baja California, is also among the towns with the most clandestine air fields destroyed in the previous presidency. In this case, as in Ensenada, most actions against drug trafficking were carried out between 2014 and 2016 when 55 air field destructions were documented. Next to Mexicali is the municipality of Caborca, Sonora, where the military forces located 74 clandestine air strips.
In the three border municipalities mentioned above alone, 448 clandestine tracks were destroyed, representing 28% of the cases reported in the previous presidency.
Three municipalities in the Golden Triangle had 337 airplane fields. The first one was in Guadalupe y Calvo, in Chihuahua, where the Army destroyed 180 dirt roads that received aircraft with drugs. The other two municipalities are Badiraguato, Sinaloa, with 85 tracks, and Tamazula, Durango, with 72.
Confronted with an enemy that is still determined to use aircraft, the Army has been given the task of improving its radar network throughout the country to track airplanes from other countries, especially Colombia and Central America.
This network, known as the Comprehensive Air Surveillance System (SIVA), provides accurate and real-time monitoring of abnormal flights. This data shared with information with other national and international agencies to reduce organized crime operations.
In 2019, the Army destroyed 61 clandestine airstrips, the lowest figure in the last 20 years. Official data reports that only in 2015 the military forces located 446. This figure is six times higher than the results obtained from last year.
The era when the Army achieved historical records for destruction of clandestine airstrips is long gone. In 2004 the Army removed 988 air fields created by organized crime. Other years with high records were 2007 (with 879), 2008 (with 767), and in 2009 (with 736).