- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

The United States has sent a delegation to Peru to investigate the April 20 shooting down of a missionary plane which killed Veronica Bowers and her daughter Charity. One would hope the delegation accurately and honestly assesses how vigorously a CIA plane in the area intervened to try to prevent a Peruvian air force jet from shooting at the plane, before having identified it.
But equally important was the insight of Veronicas husband and Charitys father, Jim Bowers. At the burial on Sunday, Mr. Bowers said he believed God had intended for the shooting to occur. Indeed, there are many lessons that can be learned from the tragic deaths of the Bowers. The war on drugs pits good versus evil. But the counter-narcotics struggle has also created a nebulous area that is very difficult to define or negotiate. Nothing better exemplifies that dangerous gray area than the fatal shooting of a missionary plane in Peru.
The Peruvian military officials responsible for the deaths of Veronica and Charity form part of the ranks of this gray area. Just what caused them to believe a small unidentified Cessna should have been brutally shot upon before it was identified or even asked to descend? Their motivations are unknown, but what remains indisputable is that the Peruvian jet fighter violated the agreed-upon procedures before using lethal force and received clearance to do so.
It seems unlikely, therefore, that the shooting was, as President George W. Bush described it, an "isolated incident." The sad truth is that in Latin America, the war on drugs often claims the lives of innocents. Although counter-narcotics efforts help free countries from the brutal grip of merciless drug lords, many Latin Americans view these efforts with ambivalence because of the haphazard rules of engagement that prevail.
U.S. counter-narcotics officials often try to teach their Latin American counterparts procedures that help protect innocent civilians. But U.S. collaboration with police and military forces that dont share their concern for civilian lives has marred Americas image in the region. This undermines U.S. interests, and bolsters anti-American demagogues, such as Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.
This does not mean, however, that the United States should withdraw from the war on drugs in Latin America. It is primarily Americas drug habit that is causing so many of these problems. So the United States must help other countries contain drug production and its consequences. It must also levy a creative and proactive effort to control this destructive demand for narcotics.
Many observers have chalked up the deaths of Veronica Bowers and her baby to the drug lords brutality and the war they force us to pursue.This is only half the story. The good guys must continue to fight by the rules. And minimum standards that safeguard the publics safety must be respected. If not, the consequences are painfully tragic.


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