Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 16:31:38 -0600 (CST)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Peru Rejects US Military/Drug Base
/** ppn.peru: 202.0 **/
The Changing Face of the Drug Trade
By Abraham Lama, IPS, 5 March 1999
LIMA, Mar 5 (IPS) - The Peruvian government has officially notified Washington that it will not allow the United States to set up an anti-drug military airbase here, said Public Affairs Officer John Dickson at the US embassy in Lima.
The head of the Southern Command of the U.S. armed forces, Gen. Charles Wilhelm, met Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori last December to extend an official request for authorisation to install an airbase in Peru.
The U.S. armed forces are seeking new installations to replace their bases in Panama, which are to be abandoned by May as part of the 1977 treaties which stipulate that Washington must hand over the Panama canal and facilities in the area to the Panamanian government by Dec 31, 1999.
Washington has also sounded out several other Central American countries, as well as Ecuador, on the possibility of obtaining authorisation for the installation of military bases - negotiations that are no longer based on the concept of "hemispheric security," but on "cooperation" in the fight against drugs.
Peru was certified as an ally in the "war on drugs" this year in Washington's annual certification exercise. The praise of Peru's successful anti-drug efforts, contained in the report released by the U.S. government last week, is expected to lead to an increase in financial, technical and military aid for Lima.
In spite of the certification, Lima has stood firm in its refusal to allow the United States to set up an airbase in Peru.
But "that 'no' does not mean the government of Fujimori is not willing to commit Peru's armed forces to take part in an expedition against Colombia's guerrillas, based on the pretext of their alleged association with drug traffickers," said Flavio Solorzano, a sociology professor at the San Martin de Porres University.
Mirko Lauer, who has a column in the left-leaning daily 'La Republica', agrees. Lauer pointed to Fujimori's recent criticism of preliminary peace talks between Colombian President Andres Pastrana and the two main guerrilla groups active in that country, which is in the grips of a decades-old civil war.
Solorzano and Lauer believe Fujimori would be willing to participate in joint operations between the armed forces of the United States, Colombia and Brazil.
Over the past few weeks, the Peruvian army has reinforced its military garrisons along the border with Colombia, and deployed several artillery units along the Putumayo river that forms the border between the two countries.
Ricardo Soberon, an expert in drug trafficking issues and frequent contributor to the local daily 'Gestion', stressed that the question of a U.S. airbase had arisen at a time of major changes in the drug trafficking scene in Peru.
Areas of production are shifting and new smuggling routes taking shape to adapt to the new conditions in the international cocaine trade.
"Over the past few years, illegal coca production has gradually taken root in Colombia, where the international intermediaries of the past now control the production, refinement and exportation of cocaine," he said.
Raul Serrano, who works with the non-governmental organisation DESCO, the leading body involved in prevention of drug abuse in Peru, said that "when Peru was the world's leading producer of cocaine, the drug scene here was limited to the central jungle region.
"But now the problem has branched off into two directions: production has shifted to the south-central jungles, and enforcement efforts have moved northwards, to the border with Colombia."
The crackdown on exports from clandestine airstrips in Peru's central jungles has forced Colombian traffickers to plant coca at home.
"The drug trafficking gangs that remained in Peru also moved toward a formerly secondary coca production zone, the tropical valleys of the Apurimac river, hundreds of kilometres to the south, and are trying to open new export routes from there," said Serrano.
Soberon said a favourable evolution of the incipient peace talks between the government and main insurgent groups in Colombia could lead drug cartels there to abandon plantations at home and return to Peru.
Representatives of the U.S. State Department and delegates of the Pastrana administration and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) - the largest and oldest rebel group in that country - recently met in Costa Rica, said Soberon.
He pointed out that in the meeting, FARC reportedly agreed to promote a reduction of coca crops in the territory under its influence.
With respect to the new routes being used by Peruvian traffickers since the clandestine air routes into Colombia were cut off, Soberon said sources with the Fujimori administration had informed him of efforts by smugglers to create a maritime route for exports toward Mexico and the United States.
"Installations and labs for refining basic cocaine paste have been discovered in pseudo-poultry farms on the coast, in Huaral and Chincha, where choral hydrate of cocaine - the final product, which fetches the highest prices on the world market - was being developed," he said.
"The mechanisms of U.S. assistence and cooperation for maritime control of large-scale exportation of cocaine will possibly arrive soon, so the Peruvian navy will be roped into the police work of cracking down" on the drug trade, Soberon concluded.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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