Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2001
Source: U.S. News and World Report (US)
Copyright: 2001 U.S. News & World Report
Author: Richard J. Newman, Kevin Whitelaw


In the world of drugs and thugs, brutality works. That's why Peru's policy 
of blasting drug flights out of the sky has been hailed as that nation's 
single most effective counterdrug tactic. Since 1995, Peruvian Air Force 
jets have strafed or forced down more than 30 narcotics-laden airplanes. 
Narco flights, not surprisingly, have fallen off dramatically. So has 
Peruvian coca production.

But all that meant little to the Bowers family of Muskegon, Mich. On April 
20, they were flying in an area known to U.S. intelligence as the Dog's 
Head. That's where the borders of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia come together. 
The Bowerses were en route to a missionary project in Iquitos, Peru. After 
their Cessna 185 re-entered Peru, a Peruvian Air Force fighter jet suddenly 
began spraying them with bullets. Aboard a surveillance aircraft operated 
by the CIA--which had first detected the Bowerses' Cessna and passed the 
info on to the Peruvians--the American pilots were alarmed by the attack. 
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" shouted one pilot into his radio. By then it 
was too late. Veronica Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, 
were already dead.

Rules of engagement. The entire incident lasted just minutes, but U.S. 
officials insist that the Peruvians violated the rules of engagement. The 
Peruvian interceptor is supposed to read the tail number and verify its 
registry. Warning shots are to be fired if an aircraft fails to follow 
instructions to land. After that, it can shoot to disable the plane. In 
this case, U.S. officials claim that Peru skipped the first two stages. 
Peru denies acting with undue haste.

U.S. officials had foreseen the possibility of such an incident. The 
intelligence-sharing program was suspended for six months in 1994 until 
Congress passed a law granting U.S. personnel immunity and stricter 
procedures were implemented.

After the tragedy with the Bowers family, surveillance flights in Peru and 
Colombia were suspended. Veterans of the drug war warn that the lull will 
lead to a jump in drug shipments. During the 1994 suspension, U.S. 
intelligence detected a precipitous rise in trafficking. "By the end of 
that time, the corridor was jam-packed with traffickers," says Jonathan 
Winer, a former State Department counterdrug official. "As long as this 
program is shut down, the traffickers have a free pass."
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