Peru’s Congress has unanimously passed legislation that authorizes the military to shoot down suspected drug planes, marking a milestone of widespread acceptance for a tactic that has proved controversial in the region.
The passage of this law grants Peru’s air force the authority to shoot down planes when there is a reasonable suspicion that the aircraft is transiting drugs, bombs, weapons, or other explosive materials, reported La Republica. The measure is designed to be applied only as a last resort option.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Peru is the world’s largest cocaine producer, and aerial trafficking routes are considered the principal means by which drugs leave the country.
Peru previously banned aerial shoot downs after a 2001 incident in which the air force mistakenly downed a small civilian plane carrying, among others, a US missionary and her six-month-old child. Peruvian authorities were relying on intelligence supplied by US anti-narcotics operatives when the plane was shot down.
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Prior to the recent decision, Peru was one of the last major drug producing and trafficking nations in Latin America not to have a contemporary shoot-down law on the books. Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, and Venezuela all have laws in place that authorize the downing of drug planes. That Peru has fallen in line with its regional counterparts on this issue is likely an indication of how important authorities view this tactic in combating aerial drug trafficking.
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Peru’s military has previously focused its efforts on destroying clandestine airstrips in order to cut down on drug flights, but this strategy has proved largely ineffective since these airstrips can reportedly be rebuilt in as little as 24 hours. Peru is the first leg in the so-called cocaine airbridge that connects Peru to the world’s second-largest consumer of the illicit drug, Brazil, via Bolivia.
However, the shooting down of suspected drug planes is troubling from a human rights perspective, and may impact the level of anti-narcotics cooperation between Peru and the United States. The United States began backing away from supporting such programs after the 2001 incident in Peru. Last year, the US government stopped sharing intelligence from anti-drug radars with authorities in Honduras following the passage of a shoot-down law in that country.