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Terrorism, drugs top Bush agenda
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US president’s historic visit produced few concrete results.

Terrorism and drugs dominated the agenda during U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to Peru to meet with his Peruvian counterpart, President Alejandro Toledo, and the leaders of three other Andean nations on March 23.

"We cannot alleviate poverty if there is terror in the neighborhood," Bush said. "We share a common perspective on terrorism. We must stop it."

Terrorism, always a major talking point in the preparations for Bush’s visit to Peru, the first by a sitting U.S. president, took on greater proportions after a bomb exploded in Lima on March 20, three days before his scheduled arrival.

The 40-kilogram bomb, which killed nine people and wounded more than 30, exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy.

Peruvian anti-terrorism police have yet to identify the group that staged the attack, but most believe that a faction of the Maoist Shining Path rebels is behind it.

Shining Path leaders, most of whom have been jailed for nearly a decade and are serving life sentences, denied involvement in the bombing.

The Peruvian government claims there are between 300 and 400 Shining Path rebels at large in the country, operating mainly in deep jungle regions where coca, the raw material from which cocaine is made, is grown.

The U.S. State Department’s human rights report for 2001 says the Shining Path carried out 103 attacks and killed 31 people last year. The March 20 bombing was the deadliest attack in Lima since mid-1992, when the Shining Path unleashed a brutal campaign on the capital.

While Peruvian authorities have been saying for months that Shining Path activities do not signal a resurgence of the rebel movement but are the final acts of a small remnant, residents in rural areas tell a different story.

"What we are seeing is alarming. There has been an upsurge in Shining Path activity. They have changed their strategy and are trying to convince farmers that they are on our side. We know from experience, however, that they may start out as good guys, but they quickly turn," said Francisco Barrantes, president of a farmers’ association in the Apurimac Valley, in the central jungle.

The Apurimac Valley, one of Peru’s principal coca-growing regions, is also home to one of the largest Shining Path columns, according to anti-terrorism police.

The Shining Path was not the only rebel group in mind when Bush and Toledo discussed terrorism. Even more important than Peru’s problem with the Shining Path is the perceived threat from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Concern has grown since Colombian President Andres Pastrana ended peace talks with the FARC in late February and sent troops to retake control of the Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone that had been granted to the FARC as part of the negotiating process.

While Toledo had invited his Bolivian, Colombian and Ecuadorian counterparts to meet with Bush in Lima, ostensibly to discuss trade and investment, the FARC and drug trafficking were the main topics addressed.

The U.S. government has recognized the potential for trouble in the Andes as a result of the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, which is aimed at eradicating illicit drug crops in that country.

Last June, James Mack, deputy assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told the U.S. Congress that there was a threat of "spillover" from Colombia.

"The pressure applied by the government of Colombia in southern Colombia will result in the flight of refugees, guerrillas, paramilitaries and/or narcotics traffickers across porous borders into other countries. We will work with the countries of the region to strengthen their capacity to cope with potential outflows," Mack said.

Toledo flatly denies that the FARC are making inroads in Peru, but said his government has taken precautions in case the rebels decide to move south across the border.

More than the FARC threat, the Peruvian government is concerned that drug traffickers will look for new areas for coca production as aerial spraying of herbicide in Colombia eliminates crops.

Peru was the world’s large coca producer until 1997, when it was overtaken by Colombia. Coca production in Peru began to fall in the mid-1990s, dropping by nearly 70 percent. Coca covered 115,300 hectares in 1995, but only 34,000 hectares last year, according to the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS).

Peruvian anti-drug authorities, while pleased with the progress, say success in the war on drugs will only come if all the countries involved are successful.

"The war (against drugs) is not bearing much fruit; we have advanced very little," said Ricardo Vega Llona, Peru’s drug czar.

Although Peru has eradicated a great deal of coca, he said, coca-growing farmers have developed ways to increase their yield.

"There’s the danger that productivity has increased, allowing for greater amounts of coca to be produced on the same amount of land," he said.

Officials also recognize that eradicating the remaining 34,000 hectares of coca will not be easy.

"Saying that we will eradicate all coca in four years is like the U.S. government saying it will eradicate consumption. It’s not possible," Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi said.

Officials from the Andean countries were pleased with Bush’s admission that the drug war must be fought not only where crops are grown, but also in the United States, where they are consumed.

"The best thing America needs to do" to combat production in the Andes "is to reduce demand at home," he said.

Another drug-related issue is the renewal of air surveillance and interdiction over the Amazon basin. The flights were suspended last April, after a small plane carrying U.S. Baptist missionaries was mistaken for a drug traffickers’ plane and shot down. A U.S. missionary and her infant daughter were killed.

Peruvian authorities wanted to use the Bush visit to announce the renewal of flights, but U.S. officials have lingering questions about the effectiveness of the program.

The U.S. Senate criticized the program as being poorly run and wants the government to eliminate Central Intelligence Agency participation if it is resumed. NAS officers in Lima also say there is no indication that drug-trafficking flights have increased since the program was suspended.

When the air interdiction program began in 1994, drug traffickers began using alternate land, river and sea routes to move drugs out of the country. The last major drug haul in Peru, in February, netted six tons of cocaine heading south to Chile over land.

Andean leaders had also hoped that Bush would arrive with a renewed Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA), a U.S. law that allows thousands of products from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to enter the United States tariff free.

ATPA was first passed in 1991 as part of the U.S. government’s strategy to help promote economic development in the Andes as a way of combating the drug trade. The four nations exported a combined US$2 billion in ATPA-covered products to the United States last year.

The law was up for renewal in December, but has not been passed by the U.S. Senate. Bush issued an executive order extending ATPA benefits for 90 days,


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