CARACAS— The Venezuelan National Assembly will soon debate a bill that, when passed as expected, will allow the government to shoot down airplanes flying over national territory that are suspected of trafficking drugs.
President Hugo Chávez, who proposed the measure late Thursday night, said carrying through such drastic actions would be a difficult choice but may help deter smugglers in Venezuela, which U.S. officials have identified as a major stopping point in the international drug trade.
"There's another law that I don't like very much but I think we're going to have to adopt it. They already have it in neighboring countries: shooting down planes of narcotraffickers," Mr. Chávez said during an address on state television.
The socialist leader said his military often sends planes to chase those suspected of carrying drugs but their communication attempts and orders to land are ignored.
"It's hard to think about it but, look at what's going on here. Planes from neighboring countries come here and our Sukhoi or F-16 airplanes try to make them land, but they make some maneuvers and at times get away. … They mock our pilots. We have to at least discuss this law," Mr. Chávez said.
A statement from the presidential press office Friday said the law would be discussed "in the near term" by the one-house legislature, which has a Chávez-supporting majority. A specific date wasn't given.
The Venezuelan government has repeatedly said it is making progress in its battle against traffickers since the South American country ended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005, when President Chávez accused DEA agents of espionage. The country's Interior Ministry often parades on state television alleged smugglers who are set to be deported.
International observers, however, say that more needs to be done. In its 2011 World Drug Report, the United Nations said that cocaine seizures in Venezuela, which peaked at 59 metric tons in 2005, have fallen drastically to 20 metric tons in 2010, according to data provided to the U.N. by the Venezuelan government. The same report said as much as half of the cocaine entering Europe leaves from Venezuela.
Allegations that the Chávez government may be facilitating the drug trade came into the spotlight earlier this year when both the U.S. and Venezuela requested extradition of Walid Makled, a Venezuelan national and accused drug kingpin being held in Colombia. Mr. Makled, who was eventually sent to Venezuela, said during interviews from his Colombian prison cell that he had as many as 40 Venezuelan military generals and other top officials in his pay.
The Venezuelan government has denied the charges.
The Wall Street Journal 14th Oct 2011