Peru Approves Military Shoot Down of Drug Smuggling Planes

By Paul Gaita 08/26/15

President Ollanta Humala caved to mounting pressure over a campaign promise to stop drug trafficking.

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In an effort to stem criticism over perceived mishandling of the drug trade in their country, Peru’s Congress voted unanimously to allow military planes to shoot down flights suspected of carrying drugs.

The vote is a controversial one for President Ollanta Humala and his government, as the United States has expressed opposition to such “aerial interdictions” since American missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter were killed after being shot down by a Peruvian fighter plane in 2001.

But Humala has also faced mounting opposition over what has been called a failure to live up to his 2011 campaign promise to make drug trafficking in Peru a top priority for his administration.

With the assistance of the United States, the government has destroyed a large amount of coca crops, but critics have noted that these efforts have seized a relatively small amount of actual cocaine while also leaving open the air route to Bolivia.

Drug policy analyst Pedro Yaranga noted that Humala has installed just one radar system to detect drug flights since taking office, and that one was not implemented until June 2015. He added that three or more systems, as well as dedicated planes and fuel, are required to reduce drug flights and Peru’s status as the world’s No. 1 producer of cocaine, which it has held since 2012.

In the debate that preceded the vote, Rep. Emiliano Apaza, chairman of Congress’ defense committee, stated that the country’s military had recorded 222 small plane flights carrying 77 tons of cocaine out of Peru from May 10 to August 16. Peruvian police estimate that more than a ton is flown out of the country every day.

Humala is expected to sign the legislation into law, after which Peru will re-join neighboring countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela, which also permit their military to shoot down planes suspected of smuggling drugs.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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