Pubdate: Tue, 24 Apr 2001
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Kevin G. Hall, Mercury News Rio de Janeiro Bureau


Peru Shoot-Down Policy Of Drug Flights Tainted By Revelations Of Bribes, 

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- The Peruvian air force's downing of a 
single-engine Cessna airplane, which killed an American missionary and her 
infant daughter, is simply the latest chapter in a troubled story of the 
CIA's tangled connections to Peru's armed forces.

The Clinton administration called the Andean nation's 120,000-man armed 
forces a vital partner in U.S. anti-narcotics efforts, thanks in large 
measure to an aggressive shoot-down policy that has wiped out at least 30 
small aircraft operated by suspected drug traffickers. Production of coca, 
the raw material used to make cocaine, also dropped sharply.

Yet it was recently revealed that although Peru's air force may have downed 
some drug traffickers, it was taking huge bribes from others to let them 
pass. Between deep corruption and this latest accident, there are serious 
questions about how successful the partnership between the two countries 
has been and whether the shoot-down policy makes sense.

Roger Rumrill, a Peruvian expert and author on the drug trade, called 
Friday's downing of the Cessna the "most absurd accident in the world," 
because more than 70 percent of the drug trade between Peru and Colombia 
now moves by sea along the Pacific Coast, not by air.

When Peru's air force took over efforts to control airborne drug 
trafficking, there were more than 100 drug flights a week along the Amazon 
border with Colombia and Brazil. Successful downings moved that trade to 
the river system, and that later gave way to ocean transport, Rumrill said.

"Right now, interdiction and control efforts are at their lowest, because 
there are no serious air or river routes," he said.

With U.S.-backed efforts at coca eradication picking up steam next door in 
Colombia, many fear that scandal-induced disarray in Peru's military will 
help shift production back to Peru.

"If the price of coca goes up as a result of success in controlling supply 
in Colombia, then more and more producers are going to return to growing 
coca" in Peru in response to market forces, John Crabtree, head of Andean 
research programs at England's Oxford University, said in an interview in 
Lima earlier this month.

Although Colombia and Peru continue a shoot-down policy, Brazil's law 
allowing it remains "under study" by the president's office nearly two 
years after the legislature passed it.

"It's too controversial," said a Brazilian defense official, citing fear 
over a possible tragic accident such as the shooting down of the missionaries.

The shoot-down policy has a dark history in Peru. Former President Alberto 
Fujimori, a longtime U.S. ally in wars against drug traffickers and leftist 
guerrillas, fled to exile in Japan in November to avoid corruption charges, 
and his powerful spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, became an international 
fugitive. Fujimori's top military leaders are all in jail, facing charges 
ranging from corruption and running arms to Colombian guerrillas in the 
drug trade to protecting drug traffickers from the shoot-down effort.

On April 5, retired Gen. Nicolas Hermoza, Fujimori's armed forces commander 
from 1992 to 2000, was arrested and charged with protecting drug 
traffickers. Captured drug baron Demetrio "El Vaticano" Chavez testified he 
paid $50,000 each to Montesinos and Hermoza to allow safe passage for 
planes carrying cocaine.

Chavez alleges that the shoot-down policy protected some traffickers over 
others instead of blasting all suspected shipments out of the sky.

More damning evidence came last summer, when word leaked to the news media 
that the military leadership had moved Jordanian weapons to Colombia 
guerrillas, who control the world's prime cocaine-production region. That 
threatened U.S. efforts in Colombia, where a $1.3 billion military aid 
package called "Plan Colombia" began last year.

The arms trafficking raises questions about why the CIA so steadfastly 
supported Peru's military and Montesinos. It would be embarrassing if the 
CIA knew nothing of its partner's activities, but more embarrassing if it 
knew he was working for both sides.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager