Peru Steps Up Efforts to Cut Cocaine Air Bridge

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Peru’s government plans to purchase several military planes and install 10 military bases in the country’s principal coca-producing region, supported by a new radar system — a sign that the world’s top cocaine producer is working to cut drug flights to Bolivia.

During a visit to a counterinsurgency military base in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley region (VRAEM), Peruvian Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano announced that by March 2015 the government would obtain two latest-model C-27J military transport aircraft, along with two other planes, to support armed forces operations in the region, reported news agency Andina.

The aircraft may be used for aerial interdiction after Peru completes an ongoing process of acquiring four radar to detect drug planes in the VRAEM, said the minister. He indicated that after Peru installed the radar, the country would reinstate a long-suspended policy of shooting down suspected drug planes, following international protocols, reported La Republica

However, he added that the radar purchase process “would not happen overnight,” reported El Comercio.

Cateriano also announced plans to construct 10 new counterinsurgency bases in the VRAEM in 2015, with the goal of gaining territorial control over the region, reported Jornada.

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Cateriano also discussed the planned acquisition of four radar in a July interview with IDL-Reporteros, but did not give information on how quickly they would be purchased, or from whom, meaning that there could still be a long wait before this equipment — or the planes that will support it — becomes operative in the VRAEM.  

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profiles

The latest announcements indicate that the government is working to cut the cocaine air bridge to Bolivia that supplies the Brazilian market. IDL-Reporteros estimates that anywhere from 54 to 72 tons of cocaine leave the VRAEM via aircraft each month.

The move will be supported by the United States, which approximately doubled its counternarcotics aid to Peru between 2012 and 2013, from $55 million to $100 million. However, this amount still pales in comparison to the sums the United States has traditionally spent in assistance to Colombia — a point not lost on former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who has in the past blamed Peru’s anti-drug failures on insufficient US aid.

If Peru is successful in cutting the air bridge, there could be a knock-on effect elsewhere. Neighboring Bolivia — currently a distant third to Peru and Colombia in coca production — is emerging as a regional hub for organized crime, and could host more drug operations if Peru becomes inhospitable.

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