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Europe: British Conservatives Call For Legal, Licensed Afghan Opium Production As Troop Toll Mounts

Using the occasion of a visit to Afghanistan this week by Conservative Party leader David Cameron, several leading Tory Members of Parliament urged him to push for legal, licensed opium production in that war-torn country, The Guardian reported. The calls came as at least six British soldiers have been killed this summer battling a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan's southern opium-producing provinces and echo the position first elaborated last year by the Senlis Council, an international security and development group.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium-smaller.jpg
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
In concert with the Americans, NATO forces have taken responsibility for security in Afghanistan's Taliban-friendly south, and now Tory MPs are complaining that the coalition's insistence on eradicating the opium crop is endangering the lives of British soldiers. With opium accounting for nearly half of the national economy, farmers and traffickers alike are fighting to save their livelihoods, and sometimes turning to the Taliban for protection.

"The poppy crops are the elephant in the room of the Afghan problem," Tory whip Tobias Ellwood told the Guardian. "We're in complete denial of the power that the crops have on the nation as a whole, and the tactics of eradication are simply not working. Last year we spent $600 million on eradication and all that resulted was the biggest-ever export of opium from the country."

Instead, Ellwood said, opium farming should be licensed, with the harvest being sold legally in the open. That would help farmers, address a global shortage of opioid pain medications, and limit the supply of opium to the black market, where, after being processed into heroin, much of it finds its way into the veins of European junkies. According to Ellwood, the licensed opium plan has the support of several Conservative MPs and senior military figures in Afghanistan.

Conservative leader Cameron has been open to outside-the-box thinking on drug policy issues. He has called for prescription heroin and even urged the United Nations to consider legalizing drugs.

The Guardian quoted one unidentified NGO worker who has traveled extensively in Helmand province as saying that eradication efforts were merely driving peasants to join the Taliban. "The better-off farmers pay local commanders bribes so they don't have to eradicate, but the others have their main source of income cut off," said the worker, who did not wish to be named because of the danger of being identified in southern Afghanistan. "Then the Taliban come to their villages and say, 'We will pay your son to work for us and give him weapons and food.' If you look at the timing of the eradication programs and the flare-ups of the violence, often it happens in the same week."

The NGO worker said Taliban members had been spotted walking the streets armed in broad daylight in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gar, and that Arab fighters had been spotted within 10 miles of the capital. "We're pouring gas on the flames of the violence with this eradication campaign. By alienating the locals we're playing into a sophisticated political plan on the part of al-Qaida and the Taliban to destabilize southern Afghanistan. The political naivety of the international community in doing this is mind-boggling," the worker said.

Colombia to Aid in Afghan Drug War

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Washington Times
URL: 
http://washingtontimes.com/national/20060725-110053-5562r.htm

Pressure Mounts on Karzai as Afghan Violence Surges

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=worldNews&storyID=2006-07-23T053339Z_01_ISL42604_RTRUKOC_0_UK-AFGHAN-KARZAI.xml&archived=False

Ambassador to US Resigns in Dispute Over Drugs (Colombia)

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Guardian
URL: 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1818997,00.html

Rumsfeld Says Drug Trade Aids Afghan Insurgency

Publication/Source: 
New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/10/world/asia/10cnd-rumsfeld.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Fierce Clashes Around Afghan Opium Center

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Test Publication
URL: 
http://www.irishexaminer.com/breaking/story.asp?j=80627054&p=8x6z7356&n=80627434

drug war/terror war confusion in Afghanistan

The British online publication "Spiked" noted in a larger story, citing a March article in the Guardian, that there is confusion over whether NATO troops are fighting a "war on drugs" in Afghanistan" or a "war on terror." Philip Cunliff wrote:
[T]he British mission objective is further confused by the question of whether the British army is fighting a war on drugs or the war on terror. Former British defence secretary John Reid argued that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is "absolutely interlinked" with the war on terror (though in fact, it was the Americans who endorsed their local allies’ poppy cultivation after the Taliban curtailed it) (4). On the other hand, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General James Jones, has said: "You won’t see NATO burning crops, but you will see us gather intelligence and support the national effort as best we can."
Reid is ignoring the obvious realities of the situation. The opium trade is only linked to terrorism (to the extent that is actually the case, probably non-zero but less than Reid claims) because opium and the drugs derived from it are illegal. Legalization would bring opium out of the underground economy and allow governments to regulate it -- if Afghanistan couldn't control the money flow to keep it out of the hands of Taliban and Al Qaeda and other violent organizations, consumer nations in Europe and the Americans could simply require the stuff be bought elsewhere. Instead, we have a no win situation in which fighting the poppy will alienate the populace whose help we need, in which wiping out the crops (an impossible task) would generate economic catastrophe, but leaving them aids our enemies and hinders the goal of attaining political instability for that troubled nation. There's a reason why the medical opium crop doesn't cause violence or help terrorists -- because it's legal. The Senlis Council has organized at least two conferences in Afghanistan to propose licensing the crop for that market.

Afghanistan Set to Have World's Largest Ever Opium Crop (Financial Times)

Location: 
Afghanistan
URL: 
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/cc6c18fc-0b56-11db-b97f-0000779e2340.html

Out from the Shadows

An estimated 300 people attended The First Latin American Legalization Summit, or Out from the Shadows Mérida, at the Autonomous University of the Yucatan in Mexico, February 12-15, 2003, including Mexican activists, national legislators and advocates throughout Latin America, Americans, Europeans, and numerous students and interested members of the community -- an historic, first of its kind, global summit calling for and end to drug prohibition. Though the event's primary focus was on legalization, the coca issue was also dealt with extensively. Among the important leaders from the cocalero movement were Felipe Quispe of the Bolivia Parliament and Nancy Obregon of Peru. Other events in this international legalization conference series included an institutional two-day event at the European Parliament in Brussels in September 2002 and a press conference with Canadian Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin in Washington in April 2003.

This program is currently inactive due to lack of funding. If you are interested in supporting an international legalization conference, please contact us! Seed costs for the next conference should be in the neighborhood of $50,000US.

Please view video footage and photographs from Mérida online! Our thanks to Jim & Ellen Fields of Eclectech Media in Mérida, and to Radio Radicale, for their outstanding work documenting this historic event, as well as Jeremy Bigwood for photography. View or listen to Eclectech video or audio of most of the conference, English and Spanish versions available. Visit Radio Radicale for video as well as interviews from the conference, in the original language of the presenters.

Check out our "Road to Mérida" interview series:

Mario Menéndez, Publisher of !Por Esto!, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico
Dr. Jaime Malamud-Goti, former Argentine Solicitor General
Dr. Francisco Fernandez, Anthropologist and Former Rector of Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán
Gustavo de Greiff, Former Prosecutor General of Colombia
Luis Gómez, Andean Bureau Chief for Narco News
Ricardo Sala, ViveConDrogas.com (Live With Drugs), Mexico
Dr. Silvia Inchaurraga, Argentine Harm Reductionist
María Mercedes Moreno of Mama Coca
Luiz Paulo Guanabara, Brazil, Executive Director of Psico-Tropicus

 

Click here for further background on DRCNet and Out from the Shadows.

Organizations participating in the Out from the Shadows campaign:

ABRAÇO • Ale Yarok • Asociación Civil DRIS • Asociación Mexicana de Estudios del Cannabis • Asociación de Reducción de Daños de la Argentina • Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy • Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación Social • Centro de Mídia Independente Belo Horizonte • CocachasquiCommon Sense for Drug PolicyCriminal Justice Policy Foundation • DEBED vzw • DieCannabisKampagneDrug Policy AllianceDrug Reform Coordination NetworkDrolegDrug Policy Forum of California • Drug Users Advocacy Group of Amsterdam • EfficacyFamilies and Friends for Drug Law ReformForum DrogheFuoriluogo • Grupo Ekologiko Ayün • International Antiprohibitionist LeagueInternational Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies • JES Rhein-Main • John Mordaunt Trust • Law Enforcement Against ProhibitionMild Green Media Centre • Movimiento Canábico de Perú • Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies • National Association for Public Health Policy • Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation • November Coalition • Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action • Por Esto! • Psicotropicus • ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy • Red Latinoamericana de Reduccion de Daños • SOMA Associação Portuguesa Antiproibicionista • Students for Sensible Drug PolicyTransform - the Campaign for Effective Drug PolicyTransnational Radical PartyTrebach InstituteTri-State Drug Policy ForumUnitarian Universalists for Drug Policy ReformUniversidad Autónoma de YucatánVirginians Against Drug Violence

Latin America: Venezuela-Funded Coca Factory Opens in Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to the town of Irupana in Bolivia's Yungas coca-growing region Saturday to preside over the opening of a factory where coca leaves will be made into legal products. Morales, who rose to power as the leader of a confederation of coca growers' unions has vowed to seek alternative legal uses for the plant as part of his anti-cocaine strategy.

"Manufacturing coca products doesn't do any harm because coca isn't a drug," Morales told hundreds of coca growing peasants in Irupana in an address that was televised around the country. "They're going to make flour, tea, soft drinks and other products in the first two plants," he said.

Earlier this year, Morales traveled the world, in part to seek markets for coca products, and that strategy may be paying off. The Associated Press reported Bolivian government officials saying that China, Cuba, India, and Venezuela have already expressed interest in buying coca products.

Morales has positioned himself alongside Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro as part of a leftist pole in hemispheric affairs. Bolivian Agriculture Minister Hugo Salvatierra told Bolivian state television that Chavez has pledged $1 million to fund two coca-processing factories.

Although current Bolivian law limits coca production to some 29,000 acres in the Yungas, unsanctioned production is occurring there, as well as in the Chapare region. According to US and UN figures, Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer, after Colombia and Peru. US government policy is to eradicate unsanctioned coca, but Morales would rather find legitimate markets for it.

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