Peru­vian Congress au­tho­rizes shoot­ing down drug planes

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY FRANK BAJAK

Peru’s Congress voted unan­i­mously Thurs­day to au­tho­rize mil­i­tary planes to shoot down sus­pected drug flights, which po­lice say smug­gle more than a ton of co­caine to Bo­livia daily.

The United States had ex­pressed its op­po­si­tion to restor­ing so-called aerial in­ter­dic­tion, Peru­vian of­fi­cials say. A U.S. Em­bassy spokesman did not im­me­di­ately pro­vide com­ment.

Peru halted shoot­downs af­ter an air force pi­lot killed 35-year-old U.S. mis­sion­ary Veron­ica Bow­ers and her in­fant daugh­ter in a 2001 at­tack on a plane wrongly iden­ti­fied as car­ry­ing drugs. Washington had ac­tively sup­ported them since the mid-1990s un­der a CIA-ad­min­is­tered pro­gram.

Pres­i­dent Ol­lanta Hu­mala is ex­pected to sign the leg­is­la­tion into law. It passed 89-0.

Neigh­bor­ing drug-pro­duc­ing and transit na­tions, in­clud­ing Colom­bia, Brazil, Venezuela and, most re­cently, Bo­livia, al­ready per­mit planes sus­pected of car­ry­ing drugs to be shot down. But with the ex­cep­tion of Venezuela and Honduras, such events have been rare in re­cent years and tend to fol­low strict guide­lines.

Since Peru be­came the world’s No. 1 co­caine pro­ducer in 2012, about half those drugs have been trav­el­ing via small planes to Bo­livia.

In Thurs­day’s de­bate, Rep. Emil­iano Apaza, chair­man of Congress’ de­fense com­mit­tee, said the Peru­vian mil­i­tary recorded 222 small plane flights car­ry­ing 77 tons of co­caine out of the coca-pro­duc­ing Apuri­mac, Ene and Man­taro river val­ley to Bo­livia from May 10 to Aug. 16.

Hu­mala vowed to make com­bat­ing drug traf­fick­ing a pri­or­ity when he took of­fice in 2011.

His gov­ern­ment has erad­i­cated a record amount of coca crops with U.S. as­sis­tance but has been crit­i­cized for seiz­ing a rel­a­tively small amount of co­caine and leav­ing the “air bridge” to Bo­livia undis­turbed.

The new leg­is­la­tion is not a panacea for Peru’s ram­pant drug traf­fick­ing, drug pol­icy an­a­lyst Pe­dro Yaranga said.

Hu­mala’s gov­ern­ment has in­stalled just one radar sys­tem for de­tect­ing drug flights since tak­ing of­fice — and not un­til in June, he noted.

Peru would need to put in place three or four more and ded­i­cate the planes and fuel re­quired in or­der to ef­fec­tively re­duce drug flights, Yaranga said.

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