Plane's Shooting Raises Doubts Over Drug War

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Apr 25, 2001.

  1. By Donna Leinwand and Jack Kelley
    Source: USA Today

    The shooting down of a missionary plane by anti-drug forces in Peru is raising new questions about the effectiveness of the U.S.-led
    drug interdiction program overseas. White House officials lauded the program Monday and called the deaths of American missionary
    Veronica ''Roni'' Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, an ''isolated incident.''

    ''The program itself is an important program, a successful program over the years, to interdict drugs from coming into the United
    States,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday. ''I think we all agree that we have to do everything possible to keep drugs off
    our streets.''

    Former White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey said the U.S. fight in Peru has been successful: ''The bottom line is, if you today flew over the
    cocaine-producing regions in Peru, it's almost gone. Peru has dropped down to a distant second to Colombia.''

    Even so, McCaffrey said, President Bush was ''entirely correct'' to call for a suspension of the anti-drug flights pending an investigation of the
    shootdown last Friday.

    ''There has been a terrible breakdown in the procedures governing Peru's use of counter-drug interdiction,'' McCaffrey said. ''They need to investigate
    this egregious breakdown in procedures.''

    Though White House officials praised the U.S. drug interdiction efforts, State Department statistics, U.S. officials fighting the drug war in South
    America and even South American presidents appear to tell a different story.

    ''Today, the scourge of drugs is still amongst us -- despite the unremitting efforts of the (South American) countries in their struggle against illicit
    drugs,'' said a letter written by the presidents of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and given to President Bush this weekend at the Summit of
    Americas in Quebec. The presidents were asking for increased U.S. aid in battling drugs. ''We need real help.''

    The congressman who represents the Bowers family, Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., said he will seek congressional hearings on the drug surveillance
    flights. ''There have to be some things worked out before we give them information in the future,'' he said.

    The United States spends $2.6 billion a year battling illicit drugs, including $731 million targeted for the Andean region. Most of the U.S. effort in Peru,
    Colombia and other South American countries is directed at eradicating drug crops and identifying aircraft and boats transporting drugs.

    In 1994, Congress passed a law that allows the CIA and other agencies to help foreign nations in the interdiction of aircraft when there's ''reasonable
    suspicion'' that the plane is primarily engaged in illicit drug trafficking. According to the General Accounting Office, the United States has such
    agreements with Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Peru. Since Dec. 8, 1994, when Peru was approved for the U.S.
    program, it has shot, forced down or strafed more than 30 drug-running aircraft and seized more than a dozen on the ground, according to U.S.
    officials. None of these incidents was known to involve innocent civilians, until now.

    Last year, the Peruvian air force intercepted two trafficker airplanes, the State Department said in its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
    for 2000. One of the traffickers burned both the plane and payload before law enforcement officers could reach it.

    U.S. officials have hailed Peru's coca eradication efforts as a success. Once the world's leading producer of coca leaf, the raw material used to make
    cocaine, Peru's coca production fell in 2000 for the fifth consecutive year: from 233,168 acres to 84,474 acres, according to the State Department.

    But the cocaine business remains lucrative in Peru, which is one indication that interdiction and eradication efforts are having little impact. The high
    value reflects ''trafficker success in transporting drugs from Peru to external markets, and returning to make additional purchases,'' the State
    Department report says.

    In 2000, the Peruvian government manually eradicated 15,314 acres of coca plants, but growers rehabilitated about 3,705 acres of previously
    destroyed coca.

    Poppy, the precursor to heroin and morphine, is gaining ground, too. In 1999, Peruvian police discovered and eradicated 34,000 plants. In 2000, police
    discovered 2.4 million plants. Narcotics experts suspect that some cocaine traffickers from Colombia are providing poppy seeds, expertise and cash
    loans to Peruvian farmers and then buying the crop.

    In neighboring Colombia, the United States has allocated $1.3 billion this year to help eradicate its drug crops. But drug lords appear to be finding ways
    around the interdiction efforts, too.

    For example, U.S. officials say, Colombian drug lords are buying large plots of land just over the border in Ecuador -- and out of reach of U.S. drug
    interdiction efforts -- using false identity papers. The plots are used to grow cocaine. They have also set up cocaine processing labs on Colombia's
    borders with Brazil and Bolivia.

    ''The whole war on drugs is futile,'' says New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who wants to legalize marijuana. ''In the name of stopping drugs, we're
    certainly putting ourselves in harm's way.''

    Source: USA Today (US)
    Author: Donna Leinwand and Jack Kelley
    Published: April 24, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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