HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Antidrug Flights To Resume In Peru
Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jun 2003
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI) 
Copyright: 2003 Detroit Free Press 
Author: Kevin G. Hall, Free Press Foreign Correspondent
Bookmark: (Peruvian Aircraft Shooting)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


U.S. Supporting Effort By Training The Pilots 

AGUAYTIA, Peru -- Alarmed by evidence that drug trafficking is on the rise
in Peru, the Bush administration expects controversial anti-narcotics
air-interdiction flights to resume in the Andean nation by the end of this

"We are seeing a large increase in the number of people clearing out old
coca fields and getting back into it," said a senior U.S. official in Peru
who is familiar with anti-narcotics efforts there. His agency doesn't permit
him to be named. 

The official and other experts attribute the resurgence of coca, the raw
material for cocaine, mainly to intense pressure on coca growers in
neighboring Colombia, where Washington has spent nearly $2 billion in recent
years. Other factors include lapses in enforcement in Peru and the failure
of U.S.-promoted alternative crops such as coffee and hearts of palm to be
as profitable as coca for Peruvian farmers. 

Coca is grown almost exclusively in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
Historically, when growers in one country in the Andean triangle are
squeezed, production shifts to another. The White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy estimates that Peru produces about one-fifth of the
roughly 770 tons of cocaine exported annually in recent years to the United
States and Europe. 

U.S.-backed air surveillance and interdiction of traffickers ended abruptly
in Peru and Colombia on April 20, 2001, when the Peruvian air force and a
CIA contractor downed a floatplane and killed Veronica Bowers, 35, a
missionary from Muskegon, and her infant daughter. 

Her husband, Jim Bowers, also a missionary, and their son, Cory, 7, were
also on board but were uninjured. The pilot, Kevin Donaldson, of Geigertown,
Pa., was shot in both legs but survived. Their return home had been mistaken
for a drug flight. 

After the incident, U.S. and Peruvian congressional investigations
determined that U.S. and Peruvian contract employees who tracked the
floatplane, misidentified it and shot it down weren't fluent enough in
English and Spanish to work together effectively. 

Before that, Peru, with CIA help, had made sharp gains against drug
trafficking by blowing small planes ferrying drugs to Colombia out of the

Despite U.S. help in growing alternative crops and building new roads and
bridges to bring those crops to market, coca -- a guaranteed cash crop
harvested four times annually -- remains king in the region. 

"There is still not another product that provides a living for farmers,"
said Flavio Sanchez, the head of the coca growers association in Aguaytia. 

"Bridges and roads are fine, but tell me how I am supposed to eat a bridge
or a road," said Elsa Malpartida, a leader of the coca growers association
in Tingo Maria. 

Forced eradication and a production boom in Colombia combined to reduce
Peruvian coca cultivation by 70 percent in the 1990s. Since 2001, however,
Peruvian cultivation has increased. Last year, although 17,000 acres of coca
fields were eradicated in Peru, total coca cultivation increased by almost
6,500 acres. 

Indirect evidence suggests traffickers already have resumed aerial

"We have detected unregistered flights that we cannot confirm are drug
flights, but many probably are," said Nils Ericsson Correa, Peru's
cabinet-level antidrug czar. 

It's unclear when antidrug flights will resume. Peruvian pilots and their
on-the-ground tracking partners already have completed training on
simulators in Oklahoma City, with the expectation that they'll fly two
Cessna Citations. 

"We will have something up and running by the end of the year," the U.S.
official said.
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