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Douglas Capraro Douglas Capraro

Peru Dynamites Drug-Plane Airstrips But Fails to Dent Cocaine Trade

Drug traffickers can repair their airstrips as quickly as Peruvian security forces can "crater" them.

4 Substance

Peru’s counter-narcotics police estimate that the country produces about 450 tons of cocaine a year, half of which leaves the country on small planes bound for Bolivia. In an attempt to thwart this highly profitable trade, Peruvian security forces have resorted to dynamiting airstrips used for drug trafficking—a technique known, for obvious reasons, as “cratering.”

But the tactics haven’t slowed down traffickers, who deal with the problem by simply paying local villagers up to $100 to fill the craters. Some get fixed overnight—no small feat considering that each landing strip is about a third of a mile long. Two landing strips that were targeted by security forces this year have already been repaired four times.

The traffickers’ persistence is down to just how lucrative their trade is. Currently, an average of four to five planes fly into Peru each day, picking up about 660 pounds each of coca paste (used to make cocaine) for transportation to Bolivia. Each shipment can earn traffickers $10,000 to $25,000.The country lacks the radar technologies to intercept flights in the air, hence the focus on the landing strips. Authorities used to shoot down suspected drug flights but stopped in 2001 when a Peruvian air force jet mistakenly fired at an aircraft carrying American missionaries, killing two passengers.

The so-called “air bridge” between Peru and Bolivia has been especially active since 2011, the year before the DEA and the UN declared Peru to be the world’s top cocaine producer, surpassing Colombia.