October 24, 2001
Photo by Alan
of Downed Missionary Plane in Peru
Narco News 2001
View from Peru:
Report Lays Blame for
at Missionary Pilot's Feet
By Peter Gorman
August 2nd report issued jointly by
the US and Peru on the April 20 shootdown of a missionary plane
in the Peruvian Amazon that was mistaken for a drug-running plane
lays most of the blame for the mishap on the downed plane's pilot,
Kevin Donaldson. Additionally, the report suggests that language
problems, between the CIA-contract pilots of the surveillance
plane that initially targeted the missionary plane as a drug
plane and the Peruvians aboard the jet that did the actual shooting,
contributed to the tragedy that left two Americans dead and the
pilot seriously wounded.
The report: Peru Investigation Report:
The April 20, 2001 Peruvian Shootdown Accident, was released
by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
Affairs. It was produced by a team of US and Peruvian officials.
Investigators for the interagency US team
included representatives from the State and Defense departments,
the US Interdiction Coordinator, and the CIA, whose pilots initially
identified the plane as a possible drug-smuggling aircraft. Rand
Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics
and law enforcement affairs, was US team
leader. The Peruvian investigators, led by Major General Jorge
Kisic Wagner, Peruvian Air Force commander of operations, included
members of the ministries of foreign affairs and defense.
According to the report, the investigation
was specifically intended to, "Establish the facts and circumstances,
including systemic or procedural matters, that contributed to
the April 20 interdiction of the U.S. missionary floatplane,
and the death of two U.S. citizens." The team was specifically
prohibited from attempting to "examine misconduct or fix
blame" for the tragedy.
their directive against laying blame
for the incident, the investigators repeatedly suggest that Kevin
Donaldson, the pilot of the downed plane, had not filed a flight
plan for his return trip from the Brazilian border to the Peruvian
jungle city of Iquitos, and that this omission was what prompted
the initial interest in his plane as a possible drug-runner.
Though Donaldson has not spoken substantially to the press since
his recuperation began, both his wife and the evangelical order
he worked for have denied the allegation that no flight plan
Additionally, the report suggests that
once the interdiction was set in motion, the constant talking
among the pilots and their interpreter aboard the CIA-contract
plane, and similar chatter aboard the Peruvian fighter jet, made
communication frantic and subsequently impossible.
As we go to press, Kevin Donaldson, while
still not talking with the press, has returned to Iquitos, Peru,
with plans to continue his evangelical mission. Jim Bowers, whose
wife, Veronica, and newly adopted daughter, Charity, were killed
in the shootdown, is in the US and plans to continue his missionary
work with Spanish speaking people there. HT recently spoke-on
the condition of anonymity-with a member of Donaldson's immediate
family in Iquitos, and was told that both Donaldson and Bowers
were instructed by US officials that it would not be in their
interests to either go public with their personal stories or
sue the US or Peru for damages. In return, the plane that was
shot down will be quietly replaced, generous financial considerations
will be doled out without fanfare, and the Association of Baptists
Evangelism will be permitted to continue working in the region.
Don Davis, the corporate counsel for the
ABWE contests that statement. "I believe it was the personal
choice of both Kevin Donaldson and Jim Bowers not to speak out
to the press. I don't believe they were pressured, though you
know how it is in Peru: the laws are applied when they're applied
and Kevin, at least, wants to continue working there, so it's
probably in his best interests not to be too public."
When asked to confirm whether the US government
would be replacing the downed plane, Davis noted that a claim
for it, "as well as other expenses we occurred because of
this," had been made with the US government, though "I
don't know when or if they will make good on that claim."
Asked whether the Mission stood behind
Donaldson's version of the story despite the official report
laying much of the blame for the shootdown at his feet, Davis
said, "Kevin Donaldson did everything he was supposed to
do when flying in that region. We are very disappointed that
the report disagrees with that. The fault certainly lies with
the other planes-both the Peruvians and the CIA-who were involved
in the incident."
Photo by Alan
Pilot Didn't Fire the Bullet (seen alongside Plane ID #)
Pressed about whether Donaldson and Bowers
were suing the US government over the shoot-down, Davis said
he could not comment for them. "I believe that if the US
makes good on the claims made there would be no need for a lawsuit.
Let's say there is no need for a lawsuit at this time on the
part of the survivors."
ON CAUSE OF SHOOTDOWN
the official report suggests that the
lack of a properly filed flight plan, coupled with communications
difficulties, was the primary cause of the tragic April 20, 2001
accident, it is difficult to avoid speculation as to the real
reasons for the plane being shot down.
Shortly after the plane was downed, HT
reported that given the timeline of events presented by the US
government, the shoot-down must have been planned to occur where
it did-at the largest city along the plane's route between the
Brazilian border and its destination, Iquitos-to be somewhere
press coverage was possible, but still out of the way of tourists.
The reasoning dealt primarily with the
time between the missionary plane's first sighting by the CIA-monitor
plane and the point of interception, given the speeds of the
three aircraft (including the Peruvian Cessna AB-37 attack jet)
That it was truly an accident also seemed
far-fetched, occurring, as it did, on the night the Summit of
the Americas was to open in Quebec. Uruguayan President Jorge
Batlle Ibanez was going to call for the legalization of drugs,
which would have made him the center of attention at the summit,
and contrasted with US President George W. Bush's call for further
resources to fight drugs in the region, along with further globalization
of Central and South American markets. With that in mind, it
seemed as though the shoot-down was intended to take the thunder
away from Batlle and place it squarely back in Bush's hands,
which it did. No major news outlet in the world covered the call
for drug legalization, while nearly all spent the bulk of their
reporting on the shootdown.
Since that time, however, events have
suggested something even more nefarious is possible. After the
shoot, all flights by US DEA and CIA-contract pilots to locate
and identify possible drug-carrying planes in the region were
suspended. Without anti-drug plane surveillance, the number of
flights originating in both Peru and Colombia to carry unfinished
coca-base to Colombian finishing labs and distribution points
is thought to have increased dramatically.
At the same time, Colombia has launched
its biggest offensive to date, what one general called "unprecedented,"
against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
rebels in the country's south. But the FARC, while known to tax
coca-growers, have no infrastructure for its distribution. Which
suggests that while the offensive against the FARC is being reported
as an assault on cocaine production, in fact, it may be a red
herring intended to take press coverage off Colombia's north,
where cocaine finishing and distribution takes place.
question that comes to mind, therefore,
Is the US capable of intentionally having
a plane-particularly one known not to be carrying drugs-shot
down, knowing that the subsequent investigation would halt all
drug-interdiction flights in the region during a high harvest
period for coca leaves, to insure that massive amounts of finished
cocaine would get to market? The question seems awful on the
face of it, but if the answer to it is "yes," then
at least two major problems facing the US currently would be
momentarily, at least, solved.
First, the enormous sums of money generated
by a resurgent cocaine business in both the US and Europe would
help bolster the sagging US economy, at least in the short term,
as that money made its way from street-level black markets to
international banking corporations and money-launderers. Secondly,
as that same cocaine began flooding the streets of the US and
Europe, it would help garner support among the public both at
home and abroad for further military aid to Colombia and the
surrounding region, support which until now has been sorely lacking
in most public and private sectors.
Photo by Alan
Bullet-Riddled Plane in its Hanger
This is a horrendous thought, and even
if the State Department or CIA had wanted to execute such a plan,
it would take more finesse and farsightedness than either has
shown in recent years. Nonetheless, the fact is that the shoot-down
in Peru has indeed shut down the drug-plane surveillance for
several months, and informed sources claim that enormous quantities
of cocaine are being stockpiled for release this coming winter.
If this bears out, and if the flood of cocaine does indeed bolster
the US economy while simultaneously generating political and
public support in Europe and the US for increased military presence
in Colombia and its neighbors, then it might not have been so
farfetched after all.
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