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Colombia "good model" for Afghan drug war, US says

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N19329346.htm

Ending an Opium War; Afghan Poppies and Recovery Can Both Bloom

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/15/AR2007011500967.html

The West Should Buy Afghanistan's Opium Crop

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
The Sunday Herald (UK)
URL: 
http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/features/display.var.1122177.0.0.php

Drugs, Taliban funding insurgency

Location: 
Kandahar
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Guelph Mercury (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.guelphmercury.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=mercury/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1168256586271&call_pageid=1050067726078&col=1050421501457

Feature: Afghan Opium Dilemma Sparks New Calls for Alternative Development, "Normalizing" the Poppy Crop

With Afghanistan's opium crop reaching record levels last year and seemingly destined for a repeat performance this year, lawmakers and officials on both sides of the Atlantic are looking for innovative solutions. Or at least some of them are. Seemingly bereft of new ideas, the US government's official line is that the solution is eradicating as much of the crop as possible with herbicides, as drug czar John Walters announced in Kabul two weeks ago.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/poppy2.jpg
incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
While the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has endorsed the notion -- though not yet put it into effect -- it has done so reluctantly, knowing that eradication will infuriate the hundreds of thousands of poor farmers who depend on the poppy harvest to feed their families. As the Karzai government knows full well, angry poppy farmers mean bad times for the government and good times for the resurgent Taliban, which awaits the aggrieved growers with open arms.

But while the US government and a grudging Afghan government are embracing standard drug war tactics, the situation in Afghanistan has created the political space for the consideration of other solutions. Some, such as alternative development proposals, are almost as shop-worn a response as eradication, while others, including various schemes to legitimize the poppy crop, represent a break with the global prohibitionist consensus.

Alternative development -- the substitution of other cash crops for opium poppies and the creation of new economic activities -- is the preferred solution of a number of scholars and non-governmental organizations, as well as the international community as represented by the United Nations and the World Bank. In a highly detailed report on the Afghan opium economy released at the end of November, the World Bank called for a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy featuring both alternative development and law enforcement action against the trade, but even as it did so, it underscored that alternative development would be a long-term -- not a short-term -- solution.

"A 'smart' counter-narcotics strategy will be essential for the effectiveness and sustainability of the fight against drugs," the report noted. "The diversity, flexibility, and dynamic character of the drug industry have been amply demonstrated in recent years. It must be recognized that counter-narcotics efforts -- whether enforcement actions or development of alternative livelihoods -- inevitably cannot be anywhere nearly as nimble or quick as the activities they are targeted against, and they inevitably take time, measured in decades rather than years in the case of alternative livelihoods programs."

But evidence of a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy being implemented is severely lacking. As Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin noted in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, the US government failed to consolidate gains it made with a small reduction in the area cultivated in 2005. "Although the decrease was due almost entirely to the political persuasion of farmers by the government, the United States failed to deliver the alternative livelihoods the farmers expected and continued to pressure the Afghan government to engage in counterproductive crop eradication," Rubin wrote. "The Taliban exploited the eradication policy to gain the support of poppy growers."

The problem of support for alternative development is not limited to isolated opium growing communities, as Barnett noted. "As numerous studies have documented over the years, Afghanistan has not received the resources needed to stabilize it. International military commanders, who confront the results of this poverty every day, estimate that Washington must double the resources it devotes to Afghanistan. Major needs include accelerated road building, the purchase of diesel for immediate power production, the expansion of cross-border electricity purchases, investment in water projects to improve the productivity of agriculture, the development of infrastructure for mineral exploitation, and a massive program of skill building for the public and private sectors."

And that is the Catch-22 of eliminating the poppy crop through alternative development. While the lack of roads, electric power, and other infrastructure for development make it difficult to get off the ground, let alone sustain alternative development, the opium economy, with its hostility toward interference from the central government and the West and its de facto alliance with insurgents and freelance gun men, makes the creation of such crucial developmental infrastructure almost impossible. In fact, in the face of a revitalized Taliban, some of the non-governmental organizations working on alternative development have fled the opium growing regions.

Rubin is harshly critical of US counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, noting that the US at first ignored trafficking by warlords it wanted as allies, then, as the uproar over increasing opium production grew louder, called for crop eradication. "To Afghans," he wrote, "this policy has looked like a way of rewarding rich drug dealers while punishing poor farmers."

After noting that the current global prohibition regime does not reduce drug use, but does produce huge profits for criminals, armed insurrectionists, and corrupt government officials, Rubin recommends treating the opium problem as a security and development issue. But then we are back to Catch-22. Still, he makes certain concrete recommendations: "[R]ural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including the construction of roads and cold-storage facilities to make other products marketable; employment creation through the development of new rural industries; and reform of the Ministry of the Interior and other government bodies to root out major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections."

But the continuing expansion of the Afghan opium economy, combined with the reemergence of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies and the need for US and NATO soldiers to fight and die to try to stop them, has led to increasing calls for an approach that transcends both repression and alternative development. Most recently, in the past few days, a US congressman and British Member of Parliament (MP) have called separately for diverting the poppy crop into the legitimate medicinal market for opioid pain relievers.

The European defense and drug policy think tank Senlis Council was first out of the gate with that notion, unveiling a comprehensive proposal to do just that. But that proposal has so far gained little traction, garnering the support of only a handful of Western politicians. Still, rising fears in the West that attempts to eradicate the crop will lead to increased political instability and violence by driving Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban appear to be leading to a new receptivity to the notion -- or something similar.

Here in the US, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) said last week that he would use his newly acquired seat on the House International Relations Committee to raise the issue this month. "You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," Carnahan said. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Carnahan cited the successful experiences of Turkey and India in the early 1970s, when US officials were worried about a rising tide of heroin from poppy crops in those two countries. Officials in the Nixon administration drafted a treaty that blunted the threat by allowing Turkey and India to sell their crops to make pain medications as part of their legitimate economies. Carnahan is also exploring the idea of using altered, morphine-free poppies containing thebaine, which can be turned into a number of therapeutic compounds, including oxycodone, oxymorphon, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. The altered poppies that produce thebaine are the strain that is used in Australia, where they are grown under license for the medicinal market.

"The idea of creating a trade for morphine-free opium is very worthwhile and needs to be thought through carefully," said Toni Kutchan, a biochemist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "It should not be pushed off the table by a knee-jerk reaction against it."

"I'd certainly like to see a study on how feasible that is," said James Dobbins, director at the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. "I do think that the current US and international effort is at best a kind of a band aid that can't have more than a marginal impact."

"I think the government should give serious consideration to attempting to implement that type of program," said Dr. Charles Schuster, former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Current US policies alone "are never going to be the solution for this," he added.

But the senior State Department official heading US efforts to fight the Afghan drug trade scoffed. Tom Schweich said the idea was "not realistic." Instead, he counseled more of the same. "You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Meanwhile, a British MP last week was calling on the British government to just buy up the Afghan opium crop and use it around the world for pain relief. South West Beds MP Andrew Selous asked the House of Commons why not? "Why, given that heroin can have legitimate medical uses, cannot we buy up the Afghan heroin crop and use it around the world for pain relief? That would stop it flooding into this country illegally. We need much serious thought on that issue."

Selous cited the murders of five addicted prostitutes in Ipswich last month. "I read the biographies of the women who were so brutally and horrifically murdered and I cannot have been the only one to be struck by the fact that they were all heroin addicts," he said. "It is a problem that affects all our constituencies -- there will not be a single Member of Parliament who does not have a heroin problem in their constituency. Given that we know that 90% of the heroin on UK streets comes from Afghanistan and that we have a major military presence there, it is extraordinary that we cannot do more to stop the poppy crop ending up here."

While the Bush administration is pushing for tougher measures and chemical eradication of the crops, and the UN, World Bank, and some academics are advocating intensified development and state-building strategies as an adjunct or alternative, the chorus of critics looking for a better way is growing, and they are implicitly -- if not explicitly -- challenging the global prohibition regime itself.

Latin America: Colombian Senator Calls for Drug Legalization Debate

A Colombian senator is calling for an urgent debate on alternatives to drug prohibition, and he isn't just any senator. Sen. Juan Manuel Galán, of the opposition Liberal Party, is the son of Luis Carlos Galán, who was weeks away from winning the Colombian presidency when he was gunned down by assassins from Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel in 1990.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/juanmanuelgalan.jpg
Juan Manuel Galán
It is time for a congressional debate on drug legalization, Galán told the Associated Press in an interview December 28. "The current repressive approach against drug trafficking hasn't worked despite the huge amounts of blood we Colombians have shed," said Galán. "It's time to look at different options, together with other drug-production nations, as a way to break the back of the drug traffickers."

Drug possession is already legal in Colombia under a Colombian Supreme Court ruling, but the growing of drug crops -- coca, opium poppies, and marijuana -- is illegal, as is the drug trade. The country has received more than $4 billion is US aid -- most of it military -- to defeat the drug trade, without making a significant impact on it. Despite a massive aerial herbicide spraying campaign aimed at eradicating the crop, the US government admits that the amount of land dedicated to the coca crop grew 26% this year.

While other Colombian politicians have broached the topic before, Galán possesses a particular stature on the issue because of the high esteem in which Colombians hold his father. A foe of the cartels, Luis Carlos Galán was killed as part of a campaign by Escobar to terrorize the Colombian political establishment into blocking his extradition to the US. Escobar himself was killed in 1993, but by then, dozens of political figures, judges, police, and journalists had been killed by cartel assassins.

Galán senior would approve of his son's position, Juan Manuel Galán said. "I think after two decades, seeing the violent impact of drug trafficking, he would not be closed to new ideas about how to deliver a final deathblow to the drug traffickers." While the United States is likely to oppose the discussion, Galán said, "Colombia has the moral authority to lead this debate at the international level. Two decades into the drug war we continue having illegal mafias that spread violence across the country, we continue having guerrillas, we continue having paramilitaries," said Galán. "And despite it all there's no real solution in sight to the problem."

But President Alvaro Uribe's Conservative government is unalterably opposed to legalization, and Galán's own Liberal Party has so far failed to back his call for a congressional debate.

Colombian Slum Turns Into Cocaine War Zone

Location: 
Buenaventura
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/162641

Senator son of slain Colombian cartel fighter proposes drug legalization

Location: 
Bogota
Colombia
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/28/america/LA_GEN_Colombia_Drug_Legalization.php

It Was the Worst of Times: Drug Reform Defeats, Downers, and Disappointments in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. In a companion piece, we looked at the highlights for drug reform this year; here, we look at the lowlights, from failures at the polls to bad court rulings to negative trends. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant defeats and disappointments for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a "best of 2006" list in this issue, above.)

The drug war continues unabated on the streets of America. Despite two decades of drug reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to make America a country that eats its young. In May, we reported that the US prisoner count topped 2.1 million -- a new high -- and included more than 500,000 drug war prisoners. In September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, showing nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and 1.8 million drug arrests in 2005 -- another new high. And just two weeks ago, we reported that more than seven million people are in jail or prison or on probation or parole -- yet another new high.

Methamphetamine hysteria continues unabated and becomes an excuse for old-school, repressive drug laws and bad, newfangled ones, too. The drug war always needs a demon drug du jour to scare the public, and this year, like the past few years, meth is it. Never mind that the stuff has been around for decades and that there is less to the "meth epidemic" than meets the eye. The "dangers of meth" have been cited as a reason for everything from targeting South Asian convenience store clerks to restricting access to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine to harsh new penalties for meth offenses to more than 20 states defining meth use or production as child abuse. Michigan even went so far as to pass legislation banning meth recipes on the Internet, while Arizona voters felt impelled to roll back a decade-old sentencing reform. Under that reform, first- and second-time drug possession offenders couldn't be sentenced to jail or prison, but now Arizona has created an exception for meth offenders. The drug warriors like to say meth is the new crack, and in the way meth is used as an excuse for "tough" approaches to drug policy, that is certainly true.

The US Supreme Court upholds unannounced police searches. In a June decision, the court upheld a Michigan drug raid where police called out their presence at the door, but then immediately rushed in before the homeowner could respond. Previously, the courts had allowed such surprise entries only in the case of "no-knock" warrants, but this ruling, which goes against hundreds of years of common law and precedent, effectively eviscerates that distinction. "No-knock" raids are dangerous, as we reported that same month, and as Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston would tell you if she could. But she can't -- Johnston was killed in a "no-knock" raid last month.

Marijuana legalization initiatives lose in Colorado and Nevada. After four years of effort, the Marijuana Policy Project still couldn't get over the top with its "tax and regulate" initiative in Nevada, although it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 44%. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado took its "marijuana is safer than alcohol" message statewide after successes at state universities and in Denver last year, but failed to convince voters, winning only 41% of the vote.

South Dakota becomes the first state where voters defeat an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. In every state where it had gone to the voters as a ballot measure, medical marijuana had emerged victorious. But voters in the socially conservative, lightly populated Upper Midwest state narrowly rejected it in November. The measure lost 48% to 52%.

California's medical marijuana movement is under sustained attack by the feds and recalcitrant state and local officials and law enforcement. This year, it seems like barely a week goes by without a new raid by the DEA or unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. San Diego has been particularly hard-hit, but we also reported on a spate of raids in October, and there have been more since. The feds have also started their first medical marijuana prosecution since the 2003 Ed Rosenthal fiasco, with Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa going on trial last month.

Hundreds die from overdoses of heroin cut with fentanyl, but the official response is almost nonexistent -- except for increased law enforcement pressure. With injection drug users falling over dead from Boston to Baltimore, Philadelphia to Detroit and Chicago, an estimated 700 people have been killed by the deadly cocktail. We reported on it in June, but the wave of deaths continues to the present. Just last week, more than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user advocates sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to take aggressive action. Ho-hum, who cares about dead junkies? Not the federal government, at least so far.

Plan Colombia continues to roll along, adding fuel to the flames of Colombia's civil war while achieving little in the realm of actually reducing the supply of cocaine. The US Congress continues to fund Plan Colombia to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though despite six years of military assistance and widespread aerial eradication using herbicides, it now appears that production is higher than anyone ever thought. Perhaps a Democratic Congress will put an end to this fiasco next year, but Democrats certainly can count influential Plan Colombia supporters among their ranks -- incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and presidential hopeful Joe Biden (DE), to name just one.

Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a true narco-state. The US war on terror and the US war on drugs are on a collision course in Afghanistan, which now, five years after the US invaded, produces more than 90% of the world's illicit opium. This year, Afghanistan's opium crop hit a new record high of 6,100 metric tons, and now, US drug czar John Walters is pressuring the Afghans to embrace eradication with herbicides. But each move the US and the Afghans make to suppress the opium trade just drives more Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which is also making enough money off the trade to finance its reborn insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is also full of people getting rich off opium. Everyone is ignoring the sensible proposals that have put on the table for dealing with the problem, which range from an economic development and anti-corruption approach put forward by the UN and World Bank as an alternative to eradication, and the Senlis Council proposal to license production and divert it to the legitimate medicinal market.

Australia is in the grips of Reefer Madness. While some Australian states enacted reforms to soften their marijuana laws in years past, the government of Prime Minister John Howard would like to roll back those reforms. The Australians seem particularly susceptible to hysterical pronouncements about the links between marijuana and mental illness, and they also hold the unfathomable notion that marijuana grown hydroponically is somehow more dangerous than marijuana grown in soil. Over the weekend, the national health secretary announced he wants to ban bongs. That's not so surprising coming from a man who in May announced that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail Down Under, but it isn't happening just yet.

Latin America: Peruvian President Lauds Coca Leaf in Salad, Blasts Guerrillas

Peruvian President Alan Garcia had coca on his mind this week. In response to an attack Saturday by presumed Shining Path guerrillas working with drug traffickers that killed five police officers and two government coca control workers, Garcia called for the imposition of the death penalty. Just a day later, perhaps to indicate he is not anti-coca, he told a foreign press news gathering that coca would be wonderful consumed in salads.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
Peru is the world's second largest coca producer, after Colombia, and indigenous Peruvians have been growing the leafy bush for thousands of years for its sacramental, nutritional and mild stimulative properties. The plant is grown legally in some parts of the country under arrangement with ENACO, the National Coca Company, which holds a monopoly on legal sales and purchases.

But Peru is also the world's second largest producer of cocaine, which is derived from coca either grown legally and diverted from ENACO or grown illegally. For years, the country has embraced a policy of eradication of illicit crops, which has pleased Washington but left Peru's coca growers angry and frustrated. President Garcia in October pledged during a Washington meeting with President Bush to continue the policy of eradication.

Some coca growing areas have been under a state of emergency for the past two months, and the Garcia government announced this week that it would be continued for another two months after the killings, which took place in Ayacucho province. The attack, described as a carefully-planned ambush, took place during a police crackdown on unsanctioned coca growing in the region. More than 20 police have been killed in similar attacks in the past year.

Two days after the attack, Garcia told lawmakers they should allow the death penalty for such crimes. Currently, the death penalty in Peru is allowed only in cases of treason during war-time. Congress should "give the necessary tools to the judges and to the executive branch to definitely eliminate these leftover [Shining Path rebels]." They should be dealt with using "the most energetic and harshest sanction that the law... permits," Garcia said.

But the next day, Garcia defended the coca leaf and his drug policy to foreign reporters. Coca leaf is great in salads, Garcia said. "I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad. It has good nutritional value." Garcia added that one of the country's best-known chefs, Gaston Acurio, had recently served several coca-based dishes at the Government Palace. "He offered us some tamales and pies made with coca flour. He offered us a coca liqueur cocktail," Garcia said. "Could eating coca leaf be harmful? No, absolutely not."

Such talk aligns Garcia with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Those two leaders are touting the industrial uses of coca and collaborating on a production plant in Bolivia.

Garcia told reporters that Peru's anti-drug policy is based "fundamentally" on controlling the sale of precursor chemicals used for cocaine production, but that Peruvian police must also do a better job of combating the cocaine traffic. As much as 90% of Peruvian coca goes to the cocaine trade, not the coca industry.

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