Peruvian Congress authorizes shooting down drug planes

AP News
|
Posted: Aug 20, 2015 8:58 PM
Peruvian Congress authorizes shooting down drug planes

LIMA, Peru (AP) — 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.

___

Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno contributed to this report.