Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jul 2004
Source: Indianapolis Star (IN)
Copyright: 2004 Indianapolis Newspapers Inc.
Author: Larry Rohter


Government will shoot down planes used in trafficking.

The New York Times

BRASILIA, Brazil -- After hesitating for six years, in large part because of
pressure from the United States, Brazil has announced it will begin shooting
down aircraft used in trafficking illegal drugs in its airspace.

Only Colombia, the source of much of the cocaine and heroin sold in the
United States, has such a policy in effect. But Brazil's northern Amazon
corridor has become an increasingly busy and essential route in the global
drug trade and is used for smuggling arms, gold and diamonds.

The law to permit such an action was approved in 1998, but Fernando Henrique
Cardoso, who was president from 1995 to 2003, never signed the decree to put
the policy into effect. His reluctance was attributed to concern in the
United States about the accidental downing of civilian planes, which could
expose the American government and companies to lawsuits.

"This is a good measure, and a bold and courageous step by the government,"
said Gen. Mauro Jose Miranda Gandra, a former chief of the air force who is
now director of the Air Institute at Estacio de Sa University in Rio de
Janeiro. But he said he worried its impact would be "more political than
practical" due to restrictions Brazil was imposing on itself.

The decision to act now seems driven mostly by the deteriorating public
security situation in cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Drug
gangs there are increasingly powerful and violent, with more firepower than
the police, and have demonstrated an ability to attack police stations and
to force businesses and schools to close.

In April 2001, the most notorious of Rio's drug bosses, Fernandinho
Beira-Mar, was captured in Colombia in what authorities described as a
guns-for-drugs pipeline. Another drug- and gun-smuggling route, said to be
one of the most important in supplying Europe with cocaine, runs from
Colombia across the northern tier of the Amazon to Suriname.

"Our perception is that we needed to have at our disposal a more powerful
means of dissuasion," Brazil's defense minister, Jose Viegas, said in an
interview. "The drug dealers, knowing that the Brazilian air force could not
take extreme measures, have felt excessively free at times to come and go
over our airspace."

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has referred to the policy as a matter
of national sovereignty and security.
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