Drug traffickers in Peru who tattle on their bosses can avoid sentencing, thanks to a law signed last month by President Alberto Fujimori.
The new legislation exempts from sentencing those under investigation for drug trafficking - if they provide information that would lead to the confiscation of drugs or the arrest of drug lords.
The latest case was the seizure May 10 of 383 pounds of pure cocaine found in an Air Force plane parked in a military airport near Lima on the eve of its scheduled departure for Europe. Four junior officials are being investigated for direct involvement. In addition, five officers and eight other subofficers are at the disposition of prosecutors, but have not been detained.
The four subofficers admitted their involvement with the smuggling attempt May 27 in hopes of taking advantage of the new law. The judge will determine if they have supplied the required information before reducing their sentences or exempting them from sentencing.
The legislation comes at a time when Peru, other Latin American countries, and the United States are strengthening their antinarcotics legislation. A 1993 Peruvian law awards life in prison to those convicted of laundering money generated from drug trafficking. Colombia and Bolivia also enacted temporary laws several years ago to enable the prosecution of a handful of drug lords.
Other countries are joining the fight. Twenty-nine European and American countries gathered in mid-April at a Bolivia-hosted conference and agreed to work together to wipe out drug trafficking. In addition, the United States initiated Operation Laser Attack last month, which involves the disbursement of antinarcotics military equipment to six South American countries.
The US State Department supplied Peru with a $15 million antinarcotics program in fiscal year 1995, according to the US Embassy in Lima.
Peru, as the world's largest grower of coca leaves, plays a key role in the drug trade. A report by the US Drug Enforcement Agency said that coca production in Peru has increased 11 percent since 1994.
The new law hopes to cut back this industry. The enactment resembles a law passed in 1992 that granted reduced sentences of usually three to six months to terrorists who surrendered and provided information about terrorist operations. The law, discontinued last year, was generally considered to be instrumental in reducing terrorism.
Human rights groups say the law resulted in the detainment of hundreds of innocent people. But the national police are more optimistic. "It is going to permit us to capture [drug] leaders," says spokesman Col. Danilo Guevara Zegarra. "There are no perfect laws, but we believe that this is going to be useful in the fight against drug trafficking."
Supporters praise the article in the law that creates a national commission in charge of drug-rehabilitation programs and coca-crop substitution. They also applaud the fact that the law puts the national police in charge of fighting drug trafficking. Previously the armed forces had overseen the fight, but had been caught several times with their hands in the drug trade.
However, Luis Lamas Puccio, an expert in narcotics legislation and a consultant for the United Nations' Crime Prevention Committee, says the reasons for this latest bill's passage were more political than practical: The passage is a gesture, he says, to appease international entities who finance much of Peru's war against drugs.