Peruvian Police Complain Military Hampers Drug War
SANTA LUCIA, Peru (AP) _ Corrupt Peruvian soldiers have disrupted efforts by police and U.S. agents fighting drug traffickers, according to the police commander of a jungle base in Peru’s ″cocaine cradle.″
Maj. Edwin Montero said Tuesday that soldiers fired on an anti-drug force during a raid last month, and that drug transport planes regularly use airstrips in military-controlled areas of the Upper Huallaga Valley.
He stressed the problem is ″one of men, not of institutions,″ blaming soldiers who are swayed by bribes offered by drug traffickers.
U.S. officials have long alleged that corrupt members of the Peruvian military help drug traffickers in the 3,000-square-mile Huallaga Valley, where more than 60 percent of the world’s coca crop is grown.
But Montero’s comments - which came during a visit Tuesday by journalists to Santa Lucia - were unusually candid for a Peruvian law enforcement official. They came as he stressed recent successes his forces have enjoyed.
Nearly 450,000 acres of coca seedlings have been eradicated this year, Santa Lucia officials said. But more than 200,000 acres of the plant still flourish in Peru, making it the country’s largest crop.
Dozens of small coca fields were still visible during a helicopter flight over the tropical countryside Tuesday.
Montero said that in October, military men fired on three U.S. State Department helicopters on loan to Peruvian police during a drug raid.
He said one UH-1H helicopter was slightly damaged, and the raid in Sion, 215 miles northeast of Lima, was aborted. There were no injuries among the pilots, police or U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents aboard.
The $1.5 million Santa Lucia base was financed by the United States and officially opened in January 1990. It lies 240 miles northeast of Lima and is staffed by 120 Peruvians and eight DEA agents.
Two C-123 cargo planes and eight UH-1H helicopters on loan from the State Department support operations, and a crew of U.S. technicians are contracted to maintain the planes and train Peruvian pilots.
According to Montero, Santa Lucia operations this year resulted in the seizure of about 15 million pounds of coca leaves and 10 million pounds of coca paste, the material typically shipped to processing points such as Colombia to produce cocaine.