Spread of drone programs in Latin America sparks calls for code of conduct
At least nine Latin American nations are developing drone programs, raising calls for a code of conduct that will assuage concerns over potential misuse.
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Latin American politicians are also raising calls for an international pact that defines the scope of drone missions. "Regulations should be established," says Mexican Sen. Fernando Baeza, who advocates a limit on data collection. "The great precision of satellite information could be put to good use, or could be used for spying."Skip to next paragraph
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Drones are an invaluable resource to aid investigators on the ground, analysts say. They can jam signals, locate enemy satellite dishes, spot drug plantations or cartel hideouts, and monitor a country's own police force for corruption, says Inigo Guevara, a Latin America security researcher with Georgetown University.
"You still need people on the ground to intercept, to interdict, to make arrests, to get involved in firefights," Mr. Guevara says. "But you can protect them a lot more if you have your eye in the sky."
Israeli companies eye clients
Make that plural: eyes. Washington in August began patrolling the entire US-Mexican border with Predator drones, and several US counties reportedly have pilot programs in police and sheriff offices. The US also sends high-altitude drones over Mexico that "have been particularly useful in achieving various objectives of combating crime," the Mexican National Security Council said in a statement March 16, days after the controversial program was exposed by The New York Times. (The Associated Press later reported that the US has flown Predators into Mexico since 2009.)
Mexico in 2008 deployed its own drones to crime-plagued Ciudad Juárez (across the border from El Paso) and today operates up to 30 UAVs nationwide, says Guevara. Programs also exist in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. None are armed and most are discreet. Hugo Chávez in 2009 accused Colombia of sending drones to capture images of Venezuela, which Colombian officials dismissed as "Santa's sleigh."
Why It Matters: Drone programs are proliferating, and incidents such as the recent one in El Paso – along with drones' controversial use in Pakistan, where a March 17 attack killed dozens of civilians – have put a critical eye on their potential to harm bystanders and spy on neighbors.