Newsbrief: Mexican Anti-Drug Choppers Shot Down, Five Dead 3/14/03

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Two Mexican government helicopters on an anti-drug fumigation mission in the mountains of Guerrero, in southern Mexico, were shot out of the sky Monday. All five crew members of the two choppers died.

The helicopters were on a fumigation mission as part of Operation Mountains III, an ongoing eradication operation Mexico's Attorney General's Office that has fumigated some 330 hectares of marijuana and opium fields in Guerrero since the beginning of February, the attorney general's lead drug fighter, Estuardo Mario Bermudez, told reporters in Mexico City Monday afternoon. Guerrero is believed to be Mexico's leading producer of opium poppies and an important marijuana growing region. It has also been the site of sporadic guerrilla activity since at least the 1960s.

The choppers were shot down at the 6,000-foot level of the Tlapa Mountains, part of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, near the remote village of Xitopontla, about 65 miles east of the state capital of Chilpancingo. Although Bermudez announced that elements of the Mexican Army and the Attorney General's Office were on the scene searching for the perpetrators, he acknowledged that their capture was "unlikely."

Bermudez added that the eradication campaign had provoked farmers and drug traffickers to a more active resistance. This resistance "has become a constant risk for this type of operations," he said, noting that farmers also hung cables over the fields to trap low-flying eradication choppers. Officials have had to cut 432 such cables, Bermudez said, "at great risk to the lives of policeman of the Attorney General's Office."

But Bermudez vowed no respite in the anti-drug effort. "Notwithstanding the lamentable loss of human life... the Attorney General's Office will not quit the permanent campaign against drug trafficking and will redouble its efforts to defeat it."

The permanent campaign is indeed permanent. This writer recalls being hauled out of buses in the middle of the night in Guerrero in the early 1980s as Mexican soldiers searched the vehicles as part of the "permanent campaign." Interestingly, those anti-drug roadblocks remained in the same location year after year, leading some observers to conclude that they were more part of a permanent public relations campaign than a permanent anti-drug campaign.

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