LIMA - Peru plans to set up a no-fly zone in a remote, jungle region to stop drug-laden airplanes from transporting cocaine to neighboring countries, the government’s antidrug chief said Wednesday.
Luis Alberto Otárola, the head of Peru’s antidrug agency, the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs, or Devida, said authorities will prohibit the use of airplanes, unless they receive special authorization, in a rugged coca-growing area known as the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, or the Vraem.
The Vraem is the world’s biggest coca-producing region. Coca leaves are the raw material used to make cocaine.
“Flights that don’t report will be considered illegal,” Mr. Otárola said at a news conference. “This will allow [security officials] to capture more airplanes.”
The new policy is the latest in a series of recent measures by President Ollanta Humala’s government to abandon antidrug policies that had not been working. Peru, the world’s biggest cocaine producer, had been destroying clandestine runways, for instance, but officials said that bombing the strips was not deterring drug traffickers, who could quickly rebuild.
Last year, the government decided not to forcefully eradicate coca in the Vraem over concerns about a backlash from farmers. It is now working with farmers to get them to voluntarily destroy their coca plants and grow legal crops instead.
Some analysts say that the latest policy to set up a no-fly zone could in the future lead to Peru restarting a program to shoot down drug planes. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs says that up to 180 metric tons of cocaine were flown out of Peru in 2013, constituting the primary method of exporting drugs. Most of the airplanes that fly into the Vraem, a narrow region that stretches across several districts in Peru’s Cusco, Ayacucho, Junín and Huancavelica states, come from Bolivia. The drugs are then flown back to Bolivia, and later make their way to markets in Brazil, Argentina and Europe.
Peruvian and Bolivian security officials have said recently they will work together to stop the flights by sharing intelligence and setting up radar along their border. Mr. Otárola also said that Peru is preparing legislation to allow the air force to interdict airplanes in other parts of the country that are suspected of carrying drugs. Mr. Otárola said the legislation will be sent to Congress soon but declined to provide further details. Peruvian officials have previously talked about restarting an aerial interdiction program to stop drug traffickers.
In Peru, the program dates back to the mid-1990s when the government first began to track aircraft carrying cocaine, shooting down planes with American logistical help. U.S. officials, who referred to the tactic as air-bridge denial, saw it as an important tool in stopping the flow of drugs. The program was suspended in 2001 after the military accidentally shot down a civilian Cessna carrying an American missionary family, killing a woman and her 7-month-old daughter. The tragedy led to international criticism of the policy.
Mr. Otárola, a former defense minister, has previously expressed support for shooting down drug-smuggling aircraft again. He didn’t say on Wednesday if the new interdiction program would allow security officials to shoot down planes, but said it would “respect international conventions that Peru is a part of.” Mr. Otárola also said Peru would step up coca eradication this year, after security officials destroyed a record number of crops in 2014. Peru plans to eradicate over 86,000 acres of coca crops this year, up from 77,000 in 2014, he said.
Peru says its eradication program is a key tool to curbing coca production. In 2013, the area used to grow coca plants fell by 17.5% to 121,000 acres, according to the latest data from the United Nations.
By Ryan Dube - The Wall Street Journal/Feb. 4, 2015
Photo: the Guardian
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