Two Michigan residents, Veronica Bowers, 37, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were recently killed when their Cessna was shot down over Peru after being mistakenly identified as a drug plane. Pilot Kevin Donaldson survived. Many Americans were shocked by the deaths, but this is nothing new for U.S. anti-drug policy in the Andes.
News reports of the deaths are filled with claims that the Peruvians have rigorous standards they employ before bringing down an airplane. That anyone within the U.S. government is willing to use the words “rigorous standards” and “Peruvian military” in the same breadth is amazing. In fact the United States has looked the other way while the Peruvian army, fulfilling its role in the U.S. war on drugs, has murdered countless civilians, occasionally in just such an “accident.”
How inept is the Peruvian military? In the late 1980s its chief intelligence official, Vladimiro Montesinos, worked with several Peruvian generals to create an illegal death squad to go after leaders of the Shining Path, a Maoist movement that was one of the few things in Peru even more murderous and cruel than the government.
Anyway, in 1991, about 20 people were having a good time partying at an apartment a little ways from the Presidential Palace. The death squad thought the party was actually a secret meeting of the Shining Path. They busted their way into the party, forced everyone onto the floor, and then fired over 100 shots. Fifteen people died and four others were wounded.
This was just one of many grotesque human rights abuses that occurred in Peru, and yet through most of the 1990s the United States considered Peru a great asset in the war on drugs. Ironically what caused the United States to finally break with Peru somewhat in the late 1990s was that it turned out their main asset in Peru, Montesinos, was playing both sides of the field. While taking money to fight drugs in Peru, he was simultaneously helping arm guerillas in Colombia.
The death of innocents at the hand of the Peruvian military has occurred all too often. Now that it is American civilians being killed, maybe the United States will at last rethink its relationship with Peru, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
U.S. Suspends Peru Flights. ABCNews.Com, April 21, 2001.