With the help of locals, drug trafficking groups in Peru’s VRAEM have rebuilt more than a quarter of the clandestine airstrips destroyed by security forces in 2014, indicating that new strategies are needed to combat drug flights from the remote region.
According to police, 49 of the 185 clandestine airstrips in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) that the authorities dismantled between January 1 and September 23 have been rebuilt by locals employed by drug trafficking groups, reported La Republica.
Vicente Romero, the head of Peru’s anti-drug police force (Dirandro), said that traffickers pay locals up to $100 per day to reconstruct the landing strips, which are generally 300-500 meters long and 10 meters wide, and can be completed in as little as one night. The official stated that some landing strips have been rebuilt as many as four times this year, reported La Republica.
According to Peruvian Vice Defense Minister Ivan Vega, the Shining Path guerrilla group — which is active in the VRAEM — charges fees to allow drug planes to take off and land in the remote region.
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This report calls into question the efficacy of destroying landing strips in an effort to combat drug flights. The demolition of narco airstrips can be only a temporary solution to a long-term problem, and more comprehensive measures are needed in order to reduce aerial drug trafficking from the VRAEM region.
It also demonstrates the ties that bind local communities in the VRAEM to drug traffickers, who can afford to pay large sums of money relative to incomes in the region.
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Despite the fact that human intelligence sources estimate eight to 10 drug flights leave Peru daily, the country does not have radars to monitor the movement of drug planes. In September, Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano announced that the country was in the process of acquiring radars and military planes to be used in the VRAEM, but that it would take some time.
As the largest cocaine producer in the world, Peru’s inability to control aerial drug trafficking from the VRAEM has major consequences for the regional fight against the illegal drug trade. Peruvian security expert Ruben Vargas estimates that 90 percent of the estimated 200 tons of cocaine produced annually in the VRAEM is trafficked to neighboring countries by plane, often passing through Bolivia on the way to Brazil.