- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

Peruvian Prime Minister Luis Solari said yesterday that he expects the U.S. drug-interdiction flights over Peru, which were stopped in 2001, to resume shortly.
"We need, as soon as possible, the resumption of the flights," Mr. Solari told editors and reporters in a luncheon interview at The Washington Times yesterday. "When the flights stop, the price [of cocaine] rises."
In Washington to discuss trade, U.S. investment and drug interdiction, Mr. Solari said that he had met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, several congressmen and President Bush's Latin America envoy, Otto Reich.
He said that a bilateral, permanent free-trade agreement between Peru and the United States was not as much an economic issue as a geopolitical and strategic one, as foreign investment would support Peru's transition to democracy.
He characterized the fight against drugs in the same terms.
"Peru is in the heavyweight championships, and we are just a junior welterweight," he said.
The price of coca leaf, the plant used to make cocaine, is at an all-time high, at 10 times the price it was six years ago, he said.
Mr. Solari said that when the price goes up, almost nothing can be done to prevent peasants from planting new coca fields.
As quickly as one coca field is destroyed, new fields are planted, he said, using a chart to show that the number of acres producing coca in all of South America has remained about constant over the last 10 years, despite billions of dollars spent spraying the fields with herbicides.
"We have been missing the point," he said. Slowing consumption in the United States has done little. He said the key was that the "doors" to making and exporting drugs the "chain of production" must be better monitored.
He said that Peru is stepping up its efforts to slow the importation of precursor chemicals to make cocaine from the coca plant. And he said the "door of exportation" must be guarded.
"The radar the United States has in Puerto Rico does not cover Peru. We are blind," said Robert Danino, Peru's ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Danino said that Peru is asking for the resumption of Airborne Warning and Control System flights to monitor airplanes. He also requested U.S. help in monitoring maritime routes, and expanded intelligence sharing.
An air-interdiction program that began in 1995 involving Peruvian air force A-37 interceptors and U.S. Customs Service aircraft in coordination with ground-based and airborne U.S. radar accounted for a 56 percent drop in coca production by 1998.
The air program was tightly coordinated, and the Peruvian A-37s with orders to fire on suspected drug planes that refused to identify themselves and land shot down 24 planes and grounded 12 more.
The program was cut back in 1998, as the United States deployed its airplanes to other regions of the world.
In August 2001, based on faulty information from a U.S. surveillance airplane, the Peruvian air force shot down a small craft thought to be a drug airplane. The information was wrong, and an American missionary and her 7-month old daughter were killed. The United States halted its flights as a result.

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