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Europe: Clamor for Licit Medicinal Afghan Opium Grows Among British MPs

Dozens of members of the British Parliament (MPs) are calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to allow Afghan farmers to head off what they call a world shortage of opiate pain relievers. Some 40 MPs, including senior Conservative opposition leaders Michael Ancram, Bill Cash and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, are urging Blair to support a UN-led pilot program to allow the cultivation of Afghan poppies for the medicinal market.
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Afghanistan is the world's dominant opium producer, accounting for more than 90% of the global harvest last year. This year's crop is expected to grow even larger. The Afghan government and its NATO and US backers are attempting to suppress the crop, but doing so threatens to undermine the broader counterinsurgency effort against the resurgent Taliban.

The call from MPs came in a parliamentary motion last week. The motion followed by two weeks the revelation that the British Foreign Office had considered such a proposal, but gave up in the face of implacable opposition from the American and Afghan governments. Under the NATO-US agreement, Britain is charged with responsibility for the fight against opium, but despite spending more than $400 million in the past four years, both the poppy crop and the Taliban have instead expanded.

The call from the British MPs is only the latest to echo a 2005 proposal from the European defense and drug policy think thank the Senlis Council, which called for the diversion of illicit opium production destined to be turned into heroin for the black market into licit medicinal markets, especially in the poorer countries of the South. While not embraced by any government except Italy, the clamor for this radical idea continues to grow.

27kg of opium in a kitchen - just another day in the Afghan war on drugs

Guardian Unlimited (UK)

Cocaine, violence persist in Colombia

Sun-Sentinel (FL)

The Shifting Weight of US Funding in Bolivia

AIN (Bolivia)

Venezuela says new spy technology to fight drugs

EiTB (Spain)

Peru Suspends Coca Eradication in Key Area

Tocache, SM

Feature: Trouble Hits in Peru This Week Over Coca Eradication

The Peruvian government's campaign to eradicate coca crops in the Upper Huallaga River Valley hit a serious bump this week as coca grower leaders and other, supportive social movements in the city of Tocache first protested eradication, then clashed with police, then called a general strike that was still ongoing, according to the latest reports. The area is represented in the Peruvian congress by Nancy Obregon, one of the coca grower movement's most well-known national leaders.

[According to Obregon's office in Lima, she was on a five-day trip to Venezuela before returning to the country early this week and heading directly for Tocache and the nearby coca fields. Drug War Chronicle attempts to reach Obregon in Tocache have so far been unsuccessful. (Read our recent interview with Obregon and other movement leaders published in last week's Chronicle here.)]
Coca leaves drying in warehouse, Ayacucho province -- sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
Protests against the US-backed eradication effort began late last week, as hundreds of protesting coca farmers blocked highways in the area to demand an end to the project, talks between the government and coca grower (or cocalero) unions, and meaningful alternative development proposals. On Sunday, the protests erupted in a violent confrontation between growers and police that, according to local radio stations, left at least 10 people injured, including local growers' spokesman Wilder Satalaya.

Monday, Satalaya told reporters on the scene growers would raise the protests to another level. "According to what I have seen on Channel 7, the government will continue with the eradication. The coca growers will also be radical. The political leaders don't know yet what we are capable of. We will take roads and highways, we will take offices. When we start burning cars, perhaps the government will finally begin listening to us," he stressed.

National coca grower leader Elsa Malpartida, who sits in the Andean Parliament, told reporters Monday that cocaleros were seeking a moratorium on eradication until growers and the government could reach an agreement. "We have proposed a temporary suspension of this eradication during this conflict and we are willing to seek a political solution on this matter," she said after meeting with Interior Minister Luis Alva Castro and representatives of the national anti-drug agency DEVIDA. "The debate is still ongoing, but I believe that there is good will on both sides for reaching a quick decision. We trust in that and we wait for an answer later tonight or tomorrow," Malpartida said.

Malpartida called for a program of nationwide registration of coca farmers, who would "like to have some form of legalization." Coca growers are not the enemy, she said. "The real enemies are the producers of chemical cocaine. We speak of a war against drugs. But in order to engage in a war, one has to visualize the enemy first. In this case they decided that the enemy is the coca grower. They have attacked him for 30 years and there have been no results. And the drug traffickers are very happy about that," she said.

But that same day, Peruvian President Alan Garcia fired back at protesting cocaleros, saying that violence and extremism would not be tolerated. "The government will be firm and proceed with its efforts in forcefully eradicating coca plants since coca farmers are not voluntarily eradicating their crops," Garcia said. "The law is what needs to prevail in this situation and the government will not take one step back. These are people who do not abide by rules and thereby put themselves under the suspicion of supplying the drug trade. They justify their actions in the name of poverty."

Even as Garcia threatened, however, other social movements and even the mayor of Tocache joined with cocaleros in what was supposed to be a 48-hour general strike, but which has now been extended. "We support our farming brothers and sisters. They have always protested by themselves, but now we pledge our support in their cause to have the federal government stop forceful coca plant eradication efforts," declared Tocache Mayor David Bazan.

According to Peruvian news media, the strike has been successful. Shops were shuttered in Tocache and transportation has ground to a halt in the city and surrounding areas. Police have repeatedly removed stones cocaleros placed on highways to block traffic, but the cocaleros keep returning with more. Some 150 additional police were being sent this week to Tocache from Ayacucho to try to restore order.

Although government ministers traveled to Tocache Tuesday in a bid to cool matters, it doesn't seemed to have worked. On Wednesday, local cocalero leaders Julio Santolaya and Maria Paredes told reporters no government officials had talked to them and they were set to increase road blocks until the government agrees to end eradication. The Tocache Defense Front, made up of the social movements who are striking in solidarity with the cocaleros, also confirmed that protests will continue and deepen.

The country's largest coca grower union, the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Valleys of Peru (CONCPACCP) has also joined the fray. In a manifesto made available to Drug War Chronicle, the organization headed by Nelson Palomino defended growers' protests and warned of more to come if the Peruvian government does not alter its policies.

"We strongly condemn the acts of eradication in Tocache, just as we oppose the forced eradication of coca in general. We have had and will continue to have a dialogue with the government," said the CONPACCP manifesto. "Nobody can accuse us of not being eager to talk. But the government of the day instead mounts smokescreens and designs strategies to surprise us and stab us in the back. What does the government say to our proposals? Nothing. Why? Because the repressive structure is given from the United States and the government, to avoid losing its profitable games, must obey them," the group said.

"We seek to prevent new clashes like those that took place in years past because of peasant opposition to the forced eradication of coca fields," the CONCPACCP manifesto continued. "But there will be confrontations because the eradication continues and the growers aren't going to sit still for it because the peasants are going to defend their sole sustenance as agricultural producers."

Bolivia tells Coca-Cola to get rid of the word ‘coca’

Journal Peru

Mark Kleiman gives drug reformers something to chew on

Mark Kleiman is one of a relatively small number of US academics who thinks and writes about drug policy. I don't always agree with him—especially his proposals for licensing drug users, higher alcohol taxes, and "coerced abstinence"—but his work is thoughtful, and, after listening to what passes for drug policy discourse among the political class, a veritable breath of fresh air. Kleiman is at it again this week, with a lengthy article, "Dopey, Boozy, Smoky—And Stupid," in the magazine The American Interest. After noting that 35 years into the war on drugs, the country still has a massive drug problem, as well as a massive police and prison apparatus aimed at drug users and sellers, Kleiman observes that no policy is going to eradicate drug use and what is needed is "radical reform." But real reform requires a better understanding of drugs and drug use, and that is where reality confronts mythology. As Kleiman notes, "most drug use is harmless," but drug abuse is not. That's quite different from "just say no." Similarly, he goes up against another drug policy mantra, this one popular with some reformers, that "drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition." That is true for only a minority of a minority of drug users, he correctly notes. After discussing some of the basics, Kleiman gets to the fun and thought-provoking part of his article—general policy recommendations:
These facts having now been set out, five principles might reasonably guide our policy choices. First, the overarching goal of policy should be to minimize the damage done to drug users and to others from the risks of the drugs themselves (toxicity, intoxicated behavior and addiction) and from control measures and efforts to evade them. That implies a second principle: No harm, no foul. Mere use of an abusable drug does not constitute a problem demanding public intervention. “Drug users” are not the enemy, and a achieving a “drug-free society” is not only impossible but unnecessary to achieve the purposes for which the drug laws were enacted. Third, one size does not fit all: Drugs, users, markets and dealers all differ, and policies need to be as differentiated as the situations they address. Fourth, all drug control policies, including enforcement, should be subjected to cost-benefit tests: We should act only when we can do more good than harm, not merely to express our righteousness. Since lawbreakers and their families are human beings, their suffering counts, too: Arrests and prison terms are costs, not benefits, of policy. Policymakers should learn from their mistakes and abandon unsuccessful efforts, which means that organizational learning must be built into organizational design. In drug policy as in most other policy arenas, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Fifth, in discussing programmatic innovations we should focus on programs that can be scaled up sufficiently to put a substantial dent in major problems. With drug abusers numbered in the millions, programs that affect only thousands are barely worth thinking about unless they show growth potential.
Hmmm, sounds pretty reasonable. Now, here is where Kleiman gets creative. Below are his general policy recommendations. I will leave the comments for others, but there is plenty to chew on here:
A PRACTICAL AGENDA What would actual policies based on the forgoing facts and principles look like? Here is a “to do” list to get us started: Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers. While prohibition clearly reduces drug abuse (otherwise there wouldn’t be several times as many abusers of alcohol as of all illicit drugs combined), and some level of enforcement is necessary to make prohibition a reality, increasing enforcement efforts against mass-marketed drugs cannot significantly raise the prices of those drugs or make them much harder to acquire. If we had only 200,000 dealers behind bars rather than 500,000, the drug markets would not be noticeably larger, and they might be less violent. Given the fiscal and human costs of incarceration, and the opportunity cost of locking up a drug dealer in a cell that might otherwise hold a burglar or a rapist, the current level of drug-related incarceration is hard to justify. We can reduce that level with arrest-minimizing enforcement strategies and by a discriminating moderation in drug sentencing. Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume. All drug dealers supply drugs; only some use violence, or operate flagrantly, or employ juveniles as apprentice dealers. The current system of enforcement, which bases targeting and sentencing primarily on drug volume, should be replaced with a system focused on conduct. If we target and severely sentence the nastiest dealers rather than the biggest ones, we can greatly reduce the amount of gunfire, the damage drug dealing does to the neighborhoods around it, and the attractive nuisance the drug trade offers to teenagers. As a practical matter, too, we cannot create adequate differential disincentives for the most destructive forms of dealing solely by ramping up sanctions for those who engage in them. If we’re already locking up ordinary drug dealers forever, locking up the nastier ones forever and a day won’t create much competitive disadvantage for violence-prone or juvenile-employing organizations. The base level of sanctions needs to be reduced to make differentiated sentencing effective. Pressure drug-using offenders to stop. The relatively small number of offenders (no more than three million all together) who are frequent, high-dose users of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine accounts for a large proportion both of theft and of the money spent on illicit drugs. Getting a handle on their behavior is inseparable from getting a handle on street crime and the drug markets.
There is much, much more in the recommendations, from more frequent drug testing of offenders to breaking up drug markets without mass arrests to raising the tax on beer and eliminating the minimum drinking age (!) to letting pot-smokers grow their own but not completely legalizing the weed. And that's not all. Read it and come back and tell me, whaddya think?
United States

Opinion: Failed US drug policy

United States
am New York

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