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Southwest Asia: Former US Anti-Drug Official Accuses Afghan Government of Complicity in Drug Trade -- US and NATO Not Doing Much Either, He Complains

Former State Department official Thomas Schweich, who was the US government's point man in the effort to wipe out the opium and heroin trade in Afghanistan until last month, has accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of protecting drug traffickers and obstructing anti-drug efforts in an article to be published in the New York Times magazine on Sunday, but which appeared on the newspaper's web site Wednesday night.

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opium poppies
"While it is true that Karzai's Taliban enemies finance themselves from the drug trade, so do many of his supporters," Schweich wrote. "Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government," he wrote, adding that drug traffickers were buying off hundreds of police chiefs, judges and other officials. Schweich accused Karzai of resisting heightened anti-drug efforts and opposing the eradication of opium poppy fields, long a dream of US drug warriors.

"Karzai was playing us like a fiddle," Schweich wrote. "The US and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai's friends could get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009 he would be elected to a new term."

The Karzai government wasn't the only problem, Schweich wrote. He criticized both the US military and NATO forces for indifference, if not outright hostility, toward the anti-drug battle and argued that failing to cut Taliban profits from the drug trade means fighting could continue indefinitely.

"The trouble is that the fighting is unlikely to end as long as the Taliban can finance themselves through drugs -- and as long as the Kabul government is dependent on opium to sustain its own hold on power," he said.

Almost everyone is to blame for the Afghan drug mess, the now-retired drug warrior fumed. "An odd cabal of timorous Europeans, myopic media outlets, corrupt Afghans, blinkered Pentagon officers, politically motivated Democrats and the Taliban were preventing the implementation of an effective counter-drug program," he said.

In a Thursday press conference in Kabul, Karzai rejected Schweich's charges."As I had said two years ago, Afghanistan never takes the blame (for the drugs threat). The Afghan nation due to desperation, war... has been forced to resort to this issue," Karzai replied when asked to respond to Schweich's comments. "Without doubt, some Afghans are drugs smugglers, but majority of them are the international mafia who do not live in Afghanistan," he said.

Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium. Production has expanded dramatically since the US invaded and overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.

Editorial: It's Everybody Else Who's Crazy

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
There's an article appearing in the upcoming New York Times Magazine this weekend, pre-released online, that would be funny -- if it weren't appearing in one of the world's most influential publications, that is, and if it hadn't been written by someone who until recently had great influence in an area of policy that he so woefully misinterprets. In "Is Afghanistan A Narco-State?," former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Thomas Schweich blasts Afghans, Europeans, Democrats, the media -- even the Pentagon -- for "preventing the implementation of an effective counterdrug program."

As Jacob Sullum points out in Reason, the answer to the question of whether Afghanistan is a narco-state is "yes." But what Schweich doesn't ask is, why does opium have this power to corrupt governments, empower extremists, warp the economy of an entire nation? After all, there is plenty of legal opium growing around the world, for medical uses, that doesn't have this effect. The answer is: Afghanistan's opium crop is illegal. But because lots of people still want opium and its derivative products like heroin, for their illegal uses, and are willing to pay lots of money for them, there are others who are willing to take the risk that engaging in illegal activity entails, in order to earn the heightened profit that the illegality and risk makes available. In other words, it is drug prohibition that has turned Afghanistan into a narco-state.

Schweich points out that there are places where the opium crop got pushed out before -- Guatemala, nearby Southeast Asia, Pakistan -- and that's what he wants to see in Afghanistan. But another obvious question that he fails to ask is, did this actually reduce the supply of opium and opiates? Or did it simply move the growing to other countries? (Hint: It moved to Afghanistan -- the country we're talking about -- right next to Pakistan.)

The other obvious question is, why did all those different people -- all those different kinds of people -- fail to support Schweich's agenda? After all, there couldn't be any good reason not to support releasing large quantities of poisonous chemicals into the air (for eradication); or not to try to wipe out an enormous fraction of Afghanistan's economy and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, at the very time when the Taliban wants to win their loyalty, could there?

Maybe it's because these Afghans and Europeans and US military officials aren't crazy. Maybe it's because they've actually listened to what scholars have to say about this: eradication doesn't work, it drives farmers into the hands of the Taliban, security has to come first, you can't just tell a hundred thousand people in the world's fifth poorest nation to give up their primary income source with no viable replacement. Could they have taken the positions they've taken, made the decisions they've made, because they are intelligent and informed and logical and practical?

To the Schweichs of the world, it's everybody else who's crazy -- or wrong, or corrupted -- anyone but him. And no matter how many times his policies fail to produce the desired result when measured meaningfully, it's okay. Because that's a detail that doesn't merit asking a question about -- certainly not in an article written for the New York Times -- and he's busy fighting drugs. Which obviously we have to continue to do, in the way we have done before -- because -- because we just do. Evidently no matter what, as far as the Schweichs of the world are concerned.

Latin America: Ecuador Assembly Pardons Hundreds of Drug Mules

Ecuador's constitutional assembly last Friday pardoned hundreds of small-time drug couriers currently sitting in Ecuadorian prisons. Last year, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed the pardons and other drug sentencing reforms, saying it was absurd to sentence low-level couriers to more than a decade in prison for as little as 3.5 ounces of cocaine.

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Rafael Correa
The constitutional assembly took over legislative power in the country after suspending the nation's Congress last year. Under the assembly's action, prisoners who had been convicted of carrying 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of drugs or less, had served at least 10% of their sentences or one year in prison, and were not repeat offenders were pardoned.

Ernesto Pazmino, director of Ecuador's public defender's office, told the Associated Press the application process was to begin this week, and the government has 30 days to release eligible prisoners.

"The president has come through with his promise, and we appreciate him and the assembly members," Carlo Aragundi, head of a prisoners' organization at a jail in Quito, told the AP. Aragundi estimated that as many as 1,200 prisoners may be eligible.

Although Ecuador produces almost no coca, it is sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world's number one and two coca and cocaine producers, and is frequently used as a transit country for cocaine headed to North America. President Correa acknowledged last year that his own father had spent three years in a US prison on drug charges.

Middle East: Iraq Becomes Key Conduit in Global Drug Trade

America's two-front "war on terror" in Afghanistan and Iraq is resulting in a one-two punch to US efforts to strangle the global drug trade. Afghan opium production has famously shot through the roof in the years since US forces invaded and overthrew the Taliban, and now, Iraq is emerging as a key player in the global drug trade, according to Iraqi and UN officials consulted by Agence France-Presse.

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Afghan opium
Many of the drugs being smuggled into and through Iraq to European and Middle Eastern markets are coming from Afghanistan via Iran, where the Islamic Republic is hard-pressed to patrol remote trafficking routes along its border with Afghanistan, officials said.

While hard numbers are hard to come by, Iraqi officials said the trade in illegal opiates, cannabis, and pills has risen steadily since the US invasion in 2003. They point to numerous drug trafficking arrests at border crossings with Iran, as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"A large number of smugglers are being arrested," Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf told AFP, adding that many were being detained in the southern Iraqi provinces of Basra and Maysan, both of which border Iran.

"The smugglers transfer hashish and opium across at Al-Shalamja at the Iranian border and Safwan near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border," an anti-narcotics agent in Basra said on condition of anonymity. "Some of them are arrested from time to time, including Iranians and even Syrians," he said, adding that the smugglers used mainly trucks to haul their cargo into the Gulf region.

"The drugs come from Iran, then they are sold at the Saudi border," said a local police officer in Samawa in Muthanna province who did not want to be named. "Smugglers are young and they use motorcycles or animals to cross the desert late at night."

Iranian authorities say they seized about 900 tons of an estimated 2,500 tons of drugs that entered the country from Afghanistan last year. While Iran has arguably the world's highest opiate addiction rate, Iranian officials estimated that more than 1,000 tons of drugs, mostly opium, heroin, and cannabis, transited the country on its way elsewhere last year.

The International Narcotics Control Board is also raising alarm bells. "Illicit drug trafficking and the risk of illicit cultivation of opium poppy have been increasing in some areas with grave security problems," it said, referring to Iraq in a report published last year.

"Drugs follow the paths of least resistance, and parts of Iraq certainly fit that description," an official of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime told AFP.

Not all the drugs are just passing through embattled Iraq. "Though official data are lacking, it appears that drug abuse in Iraq has increased dramatically, including among children from relatively affluent families," the INCB said in its report.

Chapare Coca Growers Cut Ties with USAID

Chapare coca growers cut ties with USAID after years of poorly-framed, ineffectual initiatives. Prepared by the Andean Information Network, June 27, 2008 On June 24, 2008 Chapare coca grower unions announced that they will no longer sign new aid agreements with USAID.[i] This announcement comes after two decades of poorly-focused policies, which did little to improve the lives of the majority of Chapare residents, especially during forced eradication. These development programs also provoked division and friction within the region by dividing communities and linking aid to controversial coca reduction. As a result, it is not surprising that Chapare coca growers made this decision; it is only surprising that they waited so long. Furthermore, the announcement is largely a symbolic gesture; USAID plans to shift the bulk of its already restricted Chapare activities to the La Paz Yungas in the coming year, and Chapare municipalities have found other funding partners. According to the 2008 INSCR, “Relatively more resources will be devoted to the Yungas, an under-developed coca growing region ….Assistance to the Chapare will continue to decline….” As a result, the number and scope of projects affected is minimal. It is interesting to note that there has been no rejection of cooperation with the U.S. Narcotics Affairs Section or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the Chapare. Coca grower representatives affirm the need for their presence, “because their policy is to fight drug trafficking, like ours, but now it’s on our terms.”[ii] Coordination on cooperative coca reduction and interdiction remain unaltered. It is crucial to look beyond the initial perception of an anti-American political stance to address the genuine popular discontent generated by these programs in order to properly re-evaluate the structure and impact of USAID initiatives. In an environment where the weight of US funding has diminished greatly, it makes sense to accept the Chapare farmers’ “no thank you,” and allow the region’s residents to determine who they would like to work with to improve the lives of their families. The long term frustration with USAID in the Chapare is real, but the threat of violence is highly unlikely. There is no apparent backlash against USAID workers. According to MAS congressman Asterio Romero, “We cordially request that they (USAID) leave; we won’t use force or take over their facilities, but we want them to go quickly.”[iii] While some cocaleros may have said some provocative things such as calling the Chapare a “USAID-free territory,”[iv] USAID has not been entirely expelled from the Chapare – the few ongoing projects will most likely continue until their designated end dates. Coca growers are simply moving toward other sources of aid and away from the conditions and failures of USAID projects. The cocaleros made their decision to reject USAID at the same time that several large projects have ended and new projects through the European Union funded Social Control and Integrated Development initiatives – which focus on working with local communities and do not impose coca eradication – were launched. A history of failure and friction During the past ten years, AIN, WOLA and other investigators have repeatedly highlighted the inherent flaws of USAID alternative development initiatives in the Chapare, especially during forced eradication. Key areas of concern included: - Externally-designed and imposed initiatives developed without significant consultation with Chapare farmers. - The great majority of funds dedicated to overhead, salaries of foreign consultants and other costs. “Eighty percent of these resources went to pay the salaries of the Alternative Development personnel; twenty percent went to production, and only six percent for the producers. We only got crumbs, and we are still poor.”[v] - From 1998-2003, farmers could only have access to USAID assistance after the complete eradication of their coca crop. As a result, families with no alternative income went hungry before agricultural initiatives kicked in, forcing them to replant coca. - USAID projects refused to work directly with coca growers unions, although these strong organizations could have helped facilitate the implementation of projects. Instead, they formed parallel ‘associations” and demanded that farmers leave unions to receive assistance. This practice generated divisions and conflict within Chapare communities. - Community promoters were asked to inform USAID contractors about their neighbors who continued to plant coca or spoke out against alternative development, further heightening tensions in the region. - Poorly-designed agricultural initiatives lack affordable transportation mechanisms and markets. Many farmers found that it was cheaper to let their products rot in the field than it was to take them to market. - The majority of these projects failed due to impracticality of transporting heavy produce without proper roads, the low-market price offered locally for fruit, and the inability for small-scale Bolivian producers to compete on international markets. - A USAID contracted lawyer filed narcoterrorism charges against over one hundred coca growers, the bulk of the Six Federations leadership, for attacks on alternative development installations. - USAID took over the bulk of the funding of FAO projects, like the Jatun Sacha forestry initiative, forcing the project to incorporate US conditioning on coca eradication. - Unlike the more cost effective European Union initiative, Praedac, the US refused until 2003 to work with coca grower municipalities in the Chapare. - USAID placed increasing emphasis on work with private enterprise in the Chapare, which failed to pass profits on to or fairly compensate their employees. A short-lived policy shift In late 2003, after the resignation of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, USAID decided to begin to work collaboratively with coca grower municipalities in the Chapare, in an effort to alleviate the high tensions around US programs in the region. Coca growers welcomed the change and actively participated – a significant shift in acceptance of USAID initiatives in the region. - Unfortunately, with the election of Evo Morales, USAID froze these joint initiatives for a year, wreaking havoc with municipal planning. In the interim, Chapare mayors sought out and obtained significant alternative funding from the EU, European governments and Venezuela, without any of the political strings and conditioning attached to US efforts. - Even though they had frozen funding, the US claimed that the lack of violence in the region was due to “a new, integrated alternative development approach in the Chapare [which] provides for participation by municipalities in GOB decisions on development, implementation and monitoring of programs. This has helped reduce coca-related conflict and strengthen local commitment to licit development.”[vi] Coca growers were understandably angered by this misleading statement. - When USAID initiatives resumed in the region, they were increasingly irrelevant. New requirements, such as renewed conditioning on coca reduction, although now on a global and not family level, and the obligation to sign an agreement certifying that recipient communities were “terrorist-free zones” exacerbated this situation. In addition, after the election of Morales, USAID began to block meetings of NGOs, such as AIN and WOLA, with its Chapare contractors. When asked, one high-ranking USAID official in Bolivia explained that, “It would be problematic to allow contractors to speak in the name of the US government,” and said that AIN could tour alternative development facilities escorted by USAID personnel. This lack of transparency is quite surprising, considering that in prior years, both organizations had always had free access to all USAID projects, even during the peak of violent conflicts. AIN attempted to find contact information for over twenty USAID contractors within Bolivian, could only identify nine, and when contacted, only one organization accepted a meeting. This lack of transparency around USAID initiatives is problematic and inexplicable, when nongovernmental investigation in the past had led to significant improvement in programs. With the history of failed alternative development, lack of transparency, and conditionality of coca eradication, it is hardly surprising that Chapare growers have rejected further ties to USAID funding. In a region where local unions and grassroots organizations were already highly politically mobilized, these programs served to undermine the history of community organizing. After living through the tensions and failures associated with USAID, Morales’ and his administration’s mistrust of USAID initiatives is hardly inexplicable. In light of repeated Morales administration accusations of USAID funding of the opposition’s political agendas, the proposed doubling of US assistance in the FY2009 Budget Request from economic development to “rule of law, good governance, electoral processes, consensus building, civil society and education,” has intensified these underlying tensions. Chapare growers are moving toward different funding sources such as the European Union and Venezuela, which come with far less strings attached and do not condition assistance on reducing the coca crop. The MAS administration, while critical of many US policies and frustrated with conditional aid, continues to work with and receive funding from the US, especially anti-narcotics programs. Voices from the Chapare tell the real story. The mayor of Villa Tunari said, “We don’t want USAID anymore, if they are going to cooperate, it would have to be without conditions like the European Union.”[vii] Time to re-evaluate US development initiatives Although it may be tempting to characterize Chapare coca growers as ungrateful “beneficiaries,” blindly tied to their leader’s anti-US political agenda, their rejection of USAID projects is an important example of negative impact of development policy tied to political agendas. It is important to note that more pragmatic, grounded U.S.-funded development efforts in Bolivia, such as the Interamerican Foundation projects, continue to be well-received in all departments, and by MAS and prefectural officials. Especially on the eve of a national election, the predictable rejection of USAID assistance by coca growers should serve as a wake-up call to US planners and policymakers. It is crucial to reassess the design, orientation and objectives of US-funded development effects to meaningfully involve the participants and eliminate political conditioning. Background reading on USAID Alternative Development in Bolivia Failures of alternative development: Linda Farthing’s “Rethinking Alternative Development” Political conditioning of USAID: Linda Farthing and Benjamin Kohl’s: “Conflicting Agenda’s: The Politics of Development Aid in Drug-Producing Areas” Linda Farthing and Kathryn Ledebur’s: “The Beat goes On: The US War on Coca” 2006 USAID funding freeze and its impact: Coletta Youngers and Kathryn Ledebur: “Update on Drug Policy Issues in Bolivia” Failures of USAID and potential benefits of EU projects: Kathryn Ledebur and Coletta A. Younger’s “Balancing Act: Bolivia’s Drug Control Advances and Challenges” -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [i] “Usaid deja el trópico y EEUU teme por la seguridad de su personal.” Los Tiempos, 26 June, 2008. [ii] Cocaleros piden la salida de otras agencias cooperantes.” La Razón 27 June 2008. [iii] Ibid. [iv] “Funcionarios de Usaid salen del Chapare,” La Rázon, 26 June 2008. [v] “Cocaleros piden la salida de otras agencias cooperantes.” La Razón 27 June 2008. [vi] The 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report is available at http://www.sta te.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2007/vol1/html/80855.htm [vii] “Funcionarios de Usaid salen del Chapare.”

Southwest Asia: West Threatens to Block Iran Drug Aid Over Nuclear Issue

With Afghan opium and the heroin made from it flooding into Europe, Iran is one of the first bulwarks in the effort to stem the tide. But now, the West is threatening to condition further anti-drug assistance on Tehran's compliance with its demands that the Islamic Republic halt uranium enrichment.

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International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran
Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Iran and the West had quietly cooperated in efforts to block the trade from Afghanistan. United by a common loathing for the Sunni insurgents, Iran and the West were able to work together on this issue. But that is now in doubt.

The threat came in a package of incentives presented June 14 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, France, Britain, China, Russia) and Germany in a bid to get Tehran to change its nuclear policy. Iran has repeatedly said it will not stop enriching uranium, and now the European Union is considering wider sanctions, including ending cooperation with Iranian anti-drug efforts.

The package promised Iran "intensified cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking" from Afghanistan, but only if it first stops uranium enrichment. Tehran insists it has the right to use such technology and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Burdened with a 560-mile-long border with Afghanistan, Iran has deployed some 30,000 soldiers and police to fight opium and heroin smuggling from its neighbor. Some 3,500 of them have been killed in the past two decades. Last year, Iranian officials reported seizing 660 tons of opium, nearly three-quarters of the total seized worldwide. Despite such efforts and a draconian Iranian response to drug trafficking offenses -- the death penalty -- Iran suffers arguably the world's highest opiate addiction rate.

But not all the opium and heroin smuggled across the Iranian border stays in Iran, and that had UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Antonio Maria Costa warning that Europe could be hit by a "heroin tsunami" if anti-drug aid is blocked. "We should definitely assist in this respect," he told the Associated Press this week. "Iran is a front-line country."

The UNODC's man in Tehran, Roberto Arbitrio, told the AP fighting the drug war should be seen as "a non-political area of mutual interest."

"Cooperating with Iran in Afghanistan on this and other issues is not a favor we do for Iran -- but something we need to do in our own interest," Barnett Rubin, perhaps the leading US academic expert on Afghanistan, told the AP.

"Fighting drug trafficking should not be politicized," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the top anti-drug official in Iran. "When narcotics reach Europe, it is the people, not governments, that suffer."

Such objections notwithstanding, however, drug interdiction has manifestly failed to reduce the supply, making the specter of increased drug abuse should aid be withheld an uncertain outcome.

Neither the White House and State Department nor the office of European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would comment on the linkage between continued anti-drug assistance and Tehran's compliance with Western demands.

Europe: Hashish Growers Fight Police in "Greece's Colombia"

Three Greek police officers taking part in a raid on a hashish plantation were ambushed and shot by suspected growers armed with AK-47s Sunday night, leaving one officer in critical condition with a head wound. The attack took place in the village of Malades on the Greek island of Crete, about nine miles from Heraklion, the island's largest city.

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Port of Heraklion, Crete
Sunday's shooting is the second serious attack by hash growers against police on the island in seven months. Last November, three police officers were shot and wounded when their convoy was headed to the village of Zoniana, just west of Heraklion. The Greek government responded with a massive police sweep and house-to-house searches. Police arrested 16 people in connection with the ambush and a series of bank robberies, but recovered few of the heavy weapons believed to have been used in that assault.

Crete has a longstanding tradition of gun-ownership, and weapons remain readily available despite police efforts to crack down. Marijuana growing is rife in remote mountain villages on the island. Marijuana growers and dealers routinely take pot-shots at police helicopters or vehicles patrolling their area, prompting the Greek media to refer to the region as a "Greek Colombia" and a "state within a state," according to Agence France-Presse. Local officials in Crete are often accused of protecting growers and traffickers, the agency noted.

As was the case after the Zoniana ambush, Greek police responded this week with another manhunt. Greek Police head Vassilis Tsiatouras ordered a contingent of police from Athens to the scene, including Greek SWAT teams, members of the criminology service, officers of the police drugs squad, and members of the homicide force. In all likelihood, their search will reach the same inconclusive results as before.

Southwest Asia: Taliban Makes $100 Million a Year Off Drug Prohibition

The Taliban made about $100 million last year by taxing Afghan farmers involved in growing opium poppies, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told BBC Radio. The money came from a 10% tax on farmers in Taliban-controlled areas, Costa said, adding that the Islamic insurgents profited from the illicit drug business in other ways as well.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
"One is protection to laboratories and the other is that the insurgents offer protection to cargo, moving opium across the border," Costa told the BBC's File on 4 program.

Taliban opium revenues could decline slightly this year, Costa said, suggesting that yields and revenues are likely to decrease due to drought, infestation and a poppy ban enforced in the north and east of Afghanistan. That would lower Taliban revenues, "but not enormously," he said.

But a smaller harvest this year is unlikely to cause any shortages or put a serious dent in Taliban opium trade revenues. For the past three or four years, Afghanistan has produced more than the estimated world annual consumption, Costa noted. "Last year Afghanistan produced about 8,800 tons of opium," he said. "The world in the past few years has consumed about 4,400 tons in opium, this leaves a surplus. It is stored somewhere and not with the farmers," he added.

The Taliban have put the funds to effective use, as evidenced by the insurgency's growing strength, especially in southeast Afghanistan -- precisely the area of most intense opium cultivation. More than 230 US and NATO troops were killed in fighting in Afghanistan last year, and 109 more have been killed so far this year. US Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser told reporters Tuesday Taliban attacks in the region were up 40% over the same period last year.

British officials interviewed by the BBC said it was incontrovertible that the Taliban was profiting off of the illegal trade created by prohibition. "The closer we look at it, the closer we see the insurgents [are] to the drugs trade," said David Belgrove, head of counter narcotics at the British embassy in Kabul. "We can say that a lot of their arms and ammunition are being funded directly by the drugs trade."

Which leaves NATO and the US stuck with that enduring Afghan dilemma: Leave the poppy trade alone and strengthen the Taliban by allowing it to raise hundreds of millions of dollars; or go after the poppies and the poppy trade and strengthen the Taliban by pushing hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers into their beckoning arms.

Latin America: Bolivia's Chapare Coca Growers Tell USAID to Get Lost, Say They Will Seek Funding from Venezuela

Coca grower union leaders in Bolivia's Chapare region said Wednesday they will suspend development projects funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and instead look to Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez for help. They accused USAID of using its assistance to undermine Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader who is an ally of Chávez, Washington's bête noire in Latin America.

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Bolivian congressman Asterio Romero spoke with Drug War Chronicle in person in March 2007
"We want USAID to go. If USAID leaves, we will have aid from Venezuela, which is unconditioned and in solidarity," Chapare coca leader Julio Salazar told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Venezuela already provides financial assistance to Bolivia. Chávez has also invested in the Andean nation's effort to create an industry around coca products, providing support in the building of coca-processing facilities.

Asterio Romero, vice president of Chapare's main coca-growing group, told the AP growers on Tuesday agreed to cancel the USAID's operations in the region and gave it until Thursday to leave.

The coca grower action has apparently taken both governments by surprise. The US Embassy in La Paz refused comment, saying it had not been officially informed of the coca growers' decision. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Tuesday he was not familiar with the decision, but that his government wants to make US aid "more transparent."

President Morales has accused USAID of financing his political opponents. Among them are wealthy landowners from the country's eastern provinces who are seeking greater autonomy or secession.

Our Drug War Alliances in South America Are Crumbling

Decades of drug war demolition tactics have taken their toll on our diplomacy in South America:

QUITO (Reuters) - From Argentina to Nicaragua, Latin Americans have elected leftist leaders over the last decade who are challenging Washington's aggressive war on drugs in the world's top cocaine-producing region.

These governments are shaking off U.S. influence in the region and building defense and trade alliances that exclude the United States. Some now say they can better fight drugs without U.S. help and are rejecting policies they do not like.

The strongest resistance to U.S. drug policies is in Ecuador and Bolivia, two coca-growing countries of the Andes, and in Venezuela.

This is just the inevitable consequence of bribing foreign governments to let our soldiers run around on their land slashing and burning the livelihoods of impoverished populations. We've declared war on the coca plant itself, insisting that it not be grown even by indigenous people who've used it for thousands of years for altitude sickness and appetite suppression. As it becomes increasingly clear that none of this is accomplishing anything, everyone's starting to realize that we have no intention of ever leaving.

We literally go around giving report cards to sovereign nations rating their cooperation in our own hopeless effort to stop Americans from using drugs. Both sides in the South American drug war are funded with U.S. dollars, yet we bare only the burden of our own indulgence, not the horrific violence and destabilization wrought by the endless war on drugs.

Thanks to democracy, however, the victims of our disastrous policies in South America may elect leaders who want to kick us the hell out. I can’t say I blame them.

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