Religion

RSS Feed for this category

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: The Lebanese Connection

The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Traffic, by Jonathan Marshall (2012, Stanford University Press, 261 pp., $24.95 HB)

It's harvest time in Lebanon right now, and Shiite farmers in the Bekaa Valley are out working their fields, preparing to turn thousands of acres of cannabis plants into hashish, the Red Lebanese and Blond Lebanese for which the tiny Middle Eastern country is famous. And with the harvest comes conflict, as the country's anti-drug agency and the Lebanese Army head out into the fields to try to eradicate them.

The Chronicle reported at the beginning of August about hash farmers firing machine guns and RPGs at eradicators, vandalizing tractors and bulldozers used to plow under the fields, and organizing street blockades in cities in the valley. Protests broke out in Yammouneh, Baalbek, and Boudai, and authorities backed off, announcing a week later that they would form a committee to study development issues in the Bekaa. And the harvest goes on.

Of course, it wasn't just farmers' resistance that hampered the eradication effort this year. The Bekaa Valley, with its Shiite tribes, sits right next door to Syria, currently embroiled in a brutal civil war now based largely on sectarian and confessional divisions, many of which echo profoundly in Lebanon. In fact, Lebanon was part of Greater Syria until the French carved it out under a League of Nations mandate in 1943. Now, it has seen outbreaks of street fighting between rival pro- and anti-Assad militias in Tripoli, the largest city of the Lebanese north, as well as kidnapping by Shiite tribal militias after some of their number were kidnapped by Sunni militias on the other side of the border.

"Our policy is very clear. We want to demolish all of the hashish cultivation in the Bekaa," Col. Adel Mashmoushi, head of the office of drug control, tells the Lebanon Daily Star a couple of weeks ago, before quickly adding that eradication had been enfeebled this year because "the situation in the Bekaa is very delicate right now" due to "the political and security situation caused by Syria."

Mashmoushi said his men had managed to destroy only about 1,500 acres of cannabis fields out of what he estimated to be somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 acres planted in the northern valley.

But, as global drug trade scholar Jonathan Marshall makes clear in his masterful and highly informative The Lebanese Connection, despite the terrifying sectarian war next door, the violent echoing clashes in Tripoli, and the Bekaa farmers' and traders' violent defense of their industry, this is a relatively quiet time in Lebanon's history in the international drug trade. According to his elaborately sourced estimates, Lebanese hash production was at level five to seven times higher during the period on which he focuses, the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.

In fact, relying heavily on archival State Department, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and DEA documents, among other sources, Marshall shows that the tiny sliver of the Levant that is Lebanon was a giant in the drug trade going as far back as the 1950s and a significant hash producer as early as the end of World War I.

Its largest market back then was Egypt, which had been supplied by Greek growers. But when the Greeks banned cannabis planting in 1918, poor Shiite farmers in the Bekaa took up the slack, and they haven't stopped growing ever since. Production boomed during the civil war and was banned in 1992 after the return of a central government, but it has never stopped. Eradication programs have been half-hearted, ill-conceived, and met with hostility, and promised alternative development schemes somehow never seem to materialize.

But it wasn't just hash, either. With Beirut a rising financial center for the Middle East and the center of global networks of Lebanese traders, Marshall shows definitively how it also became a center of the global drug trade. Opium skimmed from legal production in Turkey was smuggled into Syria by Kurds, transmuted to morphine base by Syrian chemists in Aleppo, smuggled into Lebanon by various means and various actors, transported through seaports controlled by Christian politicians to be delivered to French (later, Italian) organized crime groups, whose chemists refined it into heroin, and whose international networks, including American mobsters, sent it on the veins of consumers in the West.

In a history replete with ton-plus hash busts and multi-kilo heroin seizures, Marshall works his way through the underworld of Lebanon-based drug trafficking, its connections abroad, its crime bosses and political allies, both foreign and domestic. Along the way, he exposes the hypocrisy and cynicism of numerous nations, who with one hand raged against drugs, while with the other were complicit in--or at least looked away from--the billion-dollar a year business.

Marshall excels at seeing through the smoke of the murky milieu where all this took place. And what a milieu! Beirut in the mid-20th Century was a decadent, cosmopolitan oasis in the desert of Middle East culture, home to Westernized Arab princes, anything-goes nightclubs, lavish casinos, and European prostitutes. It was also awash in spies, arms dealers, and adventurers -- the Cold War Russian and American intelligence services, the French, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Turks, and, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a flashpoint of the brewing proxy war between the Shia Islam of Iran and the Sunni Islam of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

And Lebanon was a weak, communally divided state operating under a political agreement that divvied up key political positions by sect -- the Christian Maronites got the presidency and the leadership of the armed forces, the Sunnis got the prime minister's office -- but froze those divisions even as the demographic makeup of the country shifted toward its Muslim communities, not to mention an influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Israel, and later, Jordan after the Hashemite kingdom drove out the PLO in 1970.

A weak central state, rising sectarian tensions, highly profitable drug smuggling operations, external manipulation by any number of foreign interests, and a tradition of corruption in government came together in a perfect storm as Lebanon imploded into civil war in 1975, not to emerge from it for 15 years. When it came to the role of drugs in the conflict or to arming the various factions, Marshall shows definitively that nobody had clean hands.

As the Lebanese economy crumbled amidst the violence, the importance of the illicit drug economy became all the more critical for the militias: they relied on drug profits to pay their soldiers and buy their weapons. The global drug trade may not have been the cause of the conflict (although it was a cause -- Marshall cites incidents of precursor violence between Christian and Palestinian militias over drug deals that helped ratchet up the tension), but he shows that it was profits from the trade in prohibited drugs that allowed the contending factions to make the war deadlier and longer than it otherwise would have been.

He also shows that some of the most deadly fighting was not for sectarian reasons, but over control over lucrative drug smuggling routes and, especially, ports. And, paradoxically, he shows how complicity in the drug trade overcame sectarian and even regional divisions: Syrian soldiers patrolling the Bekaa turned a blind eye to Shiite hash farmers, who trafficked their product with the connivance of Christian Maronite warlords. Meanwhile, Israeli military intelligence turned a blind eye to hash smuggled into and through Israel by its allies in the South Lebanon Army or by other traffickers from whom it thought it could glean intelligence.

The Lebanese Connection is too dense with chewy information to do more than touch on its contents in a review, but it is a sterling contribution to the academic literature on the global drug trade, having made a truly original contribution.  It also opens a revealing view not only on the contemporary Middle East, but contemporary terrorism, covert operations by state and non-state actors, and the making of narco-states and failed states.

It's also a very timely book, appearing as Syria bursts into flames. Syria is Lebanon writ large: many of the same ethnic and sectarian divisions are at play, as is the international meddling at several levels of proxy war, with familiar faces like the US, Britain, France, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia all seeking to influence the outcome and doing goodness knows what behind the scenes. Syria, however, is not a major global drug trade hub, but careful followers of the  situation there will have noted the occasional accusations -- from both sides -- of  "criminals" being involved. Maybe in 20 years, we will have a better idea of what went on behind the scenes and the role of drug trafficking and smuggling networks there. In the meantime, The Lebanese Connection provides some insight into the forces at play.

Ex-South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel Says Legalize Drugs; Prohibition Is a Destructive, Costly and Futile Strategy

Location: 
SC
United States
Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel is breaking his silence and taking on America's drug prohibition war, saying he advocates a repeal of the prohibition on drugs and calling the government's response a failure. "Drug abuse is a medical, health care and spiritual problem, not a problem to be solved within a criminal justice model," he said. Prohibition is "our government's most destructive policy since slavery," he added.
Publication/Source: 
The State (SC)
URL: 
http://www.thestate.com/2011/02/08/1684798/thomas-ravenel-legalize-drugs.html

Law Student Sues St. John’s University for Rescinding Readmission Over Drug Charges

Location: 
8000 Utopia Parkway St. John’s University
Queens, NY 11439
United States
David Powers, an accountant who took time out of law school at St. John’s University, has sued the Roman Catholic university in New York after it refused to readmit him, saying that he had not been honest about a criminal conviction, since expunged, in his past. Three semesters into his law degree, Mr. Powers was granted a leave of absence to manage a $2-billion investment fund in Hong Kong.
Publication/Source: 
The Chronicle of Higher Education (DC)
URL: 
http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/law-student-sues-st-johns-u-for-rescinding-readmission-over-drug-charges/30251

US Churches Divided on Sending Missionaries, Volunteers to Deadly Juarez

Location: 
Ciudad Juárez, CHH
Mexico
The deadly drug prohibition war in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico has some U.S. churches and ministries divided on whether or not to continue to send missionaries and volunteers across the border.
Publication/Source: 
KVIA (TX)
URL: 
http://www.kvia.com/news/26643793/detail.html

The 700 Club's Pat Roberston Supports Ending Cannabis Prohibition In An Effort To Get 'Smart On Crime'

Televangelist and former Baptist minister Pat Robertson makes a cogent argument on alternatives to arresting and incarcerating citizens who use drugs, with a clear emphasis on legalizing the possession of a few ounces of cannabis.
Publication/Source: 
NORML (DC)
URL: 
http://blog.norml.org/2010/12/22/holy-hemp-pat-roberston-supports-ending-cannabis-prohibition-in-an-effort-to-get-%E2%80%98smart-on-crime%E2%80%99/

Chronic Christians: Did Jesus Heal with Pot?

Location: 
A rising tide of Christians not only smoke pot, but think Jesus used it. They're gaining mainstream legitimacy, challenging religious and political dogma, and sometimes going to jail for their faith in unprecedented numbers. According to pot historian Chris Bennett's chapter on "Early/Ancient History" in Dr. Julie Holland's The Pot Book, Jesus didn't smoke pot, he rubbed it on people in the form of medicinal holy oil. Bennett says a pot doctor Jesus makes more sense than a deity Jesus. The Son of God does pull a lot of lightweight miracles like treating skin lesions, stomach problems, menstrual issues, eye problems, epilepsy and asthma, all of which respond to the cannabis therapies.
Publication/Source: 
East Bay Express (CA)
URL: 
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/LegalizationNation/archives/2010/12/16/chronic-christians-did-jesus-heal-with-pot

Colombian Shaman Arrested for Ayahuasca on Arriving in US

A widely known and well-respected indigenous Colombian shaman is in US custody on drug trafficking charges for possessing the psychedelic concoction ayahuasca when he arrived in Houston October 19 on a flight from Colombia. Taita Juan Agreda Chindoy faces up to 20 years in federal prison after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Taita Juan
Taita Juan is a traditional healer of the Cametsa people who live in the Sibundoy Valley in Colombia's Alto Putomayo region. He is recognized by the Colombian Ministry of Health as a traditional healer and is widely known in his community as an established healer and leader. He was traveling to Oregon to give a presentation when he was arrested.

Although used as a religious sacrament in the Amazon, ayahuasca is banned under the US Controlled Substances Act because it contains DMT, a fast-acting hallucinogenic chemical. But in a unanimous 2006 decision, the US Supreme Court held that a US branch of a Brazilian church may use ayahuasca as a sacrament during religious rituals.

Taita Juan's supporters are organizing a campaign for his release and have created a web site, Free Taita Juan, to help mobilize support. His attorney was scheduled to meet with prosecutors Tuesday in a bid to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, the shaman remains behind bars in a US detention center.

Houston, TX
United States

Mexico Drug Prohibition Violence Also Hitting Churches, Prelate Says

Location: 
Mexico
Time for another unintended consequence of drug prohibition: Alarming reports are pouring in from all over Mexico -- priests are being constantly threatened, extorted and abused by drug traffickers.
Publication/Source: 
CNN (US)
URL: 
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/08/17/mexico.church.threats/#fbid=JNBQZQLD9f5&wom=false

Marijuana Church Founder "Too Dangerous" For Bail

Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry (THC Ministry), has been ordered held without bail after being arrested along with 13 current or former employees and growers by the DEA on July 8. He and the others are charged with marijuana trafficking offenses related to their alleged distribution of marijuana as a sacrament at the ministry.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/rogerchristie.jpg
Roger Christie (courtesy thc-ministry.org)
Christie had been raided by the DEA in March, with agents seizing cash and marijuana at that time, but not arresting him. Federal authorities allege that after that raid, Christie recommenced his marijuana distribution at the ministry. He and the others were secretly indicted last month.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang originally ordered Christie held without bail at federal prosecutors' request. Christie and his public defender, Matthew Winter, last week filed a motion seeking his release, citing the nonviolent nature of the offenses, Christie's longstanding ties to the community, his lack of a criminal record, and his willingness to abstain from marijuana use or distribution pending trial.

A federal pre-trial services report also recommended that Christie be freed on bail. But prosecutors fought back with a 46-page memorandum in opposition. Because Christie allegedly recommenced marijuana distribution after the March raids, that made him "a danger to the community and... no conditions/combination of conditions could assure the safety of the community," they wrote.

On Friday, US District Court Judge Alan Kay agreed with prosecutors. Now, Christie will be held behind bars until trial because the pot-loving minister is "too dangerous" to be freed on bail.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ricardo-murillo.jpg
poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 16,000 people, with a death toll of over 7,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Saturday, December 12

In the town of Almoloya, near Mexico City, six members of a family were killed by gunmen who attacked their home in the morning. Gunmen entered their home, locked several children in a bedroom, then lined up and shot the six adults, three men and three women ranging in ages from 25 to 52. Two bodies were also found in the nearby town of Villa Victoria, although it is unclear if these two incidents are related.

In Guadalajara, a prep school teacher was shot and killed by two gunmen as he drove to work. In Culiacan, Sinaloa, two women with their hands and feet bound were found executed. 16 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez, including a police official. In Michoacan, police found the bodies of three suspected cartel members, who were found dead in a car that contained weapons of various calibers. Six people were also killed in Tijuana, and five in Durango.

Monday, December 14

The spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico called on the Mexican army to withdraw from the streets of Mexican cities. The spokesman, Hugo Valdemar, called on more effective police forces to be created. He also said that local authorities "cannot count on the army," and said that "unfortunately, the army is committing human rights violations" in its fight against organized crime. The same day as his statements, two law enforcement facilities in Durango were attacked by grenades.

Tuesday, December 15

Seven people were killed in Tijuana, bringing the total number of murders in the city to 23 in four days. Among the dead was a man found by commuters hanging by his hands from a bridge over the Tijuana-Playas de Rosarito highway. In Ciudad Juárez, ten men and one woman were killed in several incidents across the city. In the state of Aguacalientes, a woman was found murdered, along with a note accusing her of being an informant. Near Nogales, six bodies were found dumped in a construction site. In the same time period, three people were killed in Sinaloa, three in Guerrero, and one (a 17-year old boy) outside Mexico City.

Wednesday, December 16

In a major coup for the government, Beltran Leyva cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed along with two other cartel members when members of the Mexican Navy attacked their apartment in a luxury quarter of Cuernavaca. One Mexican sailor also died in the 90 minute-long gun battle.

Ricardo Chavez Aldana, a reporter for the Ciudad Juárez radio station Radio Cañón fled to El Paso with his family and requested political asylum. Two nephews of his were recently killed in Ciudad Juárez and his family had received death threats. He is the fourth Ciudad Juárez journalist to seek asylum in the US. In the last nine years, 56 journalists have been killed in Mexico. Most of the killings remained unsolved.

In Tijuana, gunmen armed with assault rifles killed four men in a taco store. Several people were wounded in the attack. The day before, the bodies of four decapitated men were found in the city, and four other people were killed by gunfire, including one woman. These killings brought to 35 the number of people murdered in Tijuana since Friday. The reasons for the sudden spike in violence are unclear, although much of the violence in Tijuana is due to the intense rivalry between the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO) and a breakaway faction that has allied itself with the Sinaloa Cartel.

In Ciudad Juárez, 18 people were killed in a 24-hour period. In one incident, five men were killed when a home was attacked by a group of gunmen. The five men attempted to flee, but were gunned down in the courtyard. In another incident, two men were killed by gunmen wielding AK-47's.

In Guerrero, body parts belonging to two individuals were found inside plastic bags. A note was found near the bag which threatened kidnappers and was said to be from "the boss of bosses". This nickname is thought to belong to Arturo Beltran-Leyva, one of the heads of the Beltran-Leyva organization. The note also implored the local population not to be alarmed by the killings.

Body Count for the Week: 221

Body Count for the Year: 7,277

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School