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Middle East: The Poppies Blossom in Iraq

British journalist Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent reports that opium poppy cultivation is rapidly spreading across Iraq. While Cockburn reported in May that poppies had appeared near Diwaniyah in southern Iraq, he now reports that poppies are growing in restive Diyala province, where Al Qaeda in Iraq is making what could be a last stand.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Diyala, deeply divided between Kurds, Sunni, and Shia, is so violent that local security forces have little time to deal with drug cultivation. The Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press reported that farmers have turned to poppy cultivation around Khalis, Sa'adiya, Dain'ya, and Baladruz, while Cockburn added the town of Buhriz to the list. But cultivation is even more extensive in southern Iraq, especially around Amara and Majar al-Kabir.

The news agency quoted a local engineer as saying local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imported fruits and vegetables. They also face rising fuel and fertilizer prices. "The cultivation of opium is the likely solution to these problems," said the engineer.

The poppy growing and trafficking is linked to Sunni and Shia militias, Cockburn wrote. US military strategy has relied on developing a 70,000-member Sunni militia, many of whose members dabble in protection rackets, crime, and smuggling. Similarly, Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the powerful Shia Mehdi Army militia, has complained that criminals have infiltrated its ranks. According to Cockburn, it is the local warlords and the militias that have sponsored the opium planting, not the farmers.

Feature: The 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference -- Mr. Costa Meets the Opposition

The 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Orleans kicked off with a bang Thursday as Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told a boisterous and sometimes combative audience of drug reformers that while a drug-free world is probably not attainable, it is almost certainly desirable, and that he would continue to work toward that goal.

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Antonio Maria Costa (courtesy DrugWarRant.com
Costa, who as head of the UNODC is the leading cheerleader for the global drug prohibition regime and chief chider of governments UNODC believes are not making sufficient efforts in the war on drugs, is the highest placed drug war figure to ever address a drug reform conference. But while his attendance could mark the beginning of a broader dialog on global drug policy, at various points Thursday it seemed more like a dialog of the deaf.

His remarks came on the opening morning of the three-day conference hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, and co-hosted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Harm Reduction Coalition, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. With more than a thousand attendees, the joint 2007 conference is the largest drug reform conference ever.

"A drug-free world is not a slogan I use," Costa told the opening morning crowd. "It is an aspiration, not an operational target, much as one aspires to eliminate poverty or hunger or disease."

While Costa flatly rejected drug legalization, he also suggested that drug law enforcement was not the ultimate "solution" to drug use and the drug trade. Even if all the drugs produced around the world this year could be eradicated, he said, they would be planted again next year -- and if farmers in Colombia or Afghanistan didn't want to plant them, farmers somewhere else would. "While law enforcement is necessary, it is not sufficient," he told the crowd.

The answer, Costa argued, is not on the supply side but the demand side. "Lowering demand is the necessary condition to make drug policy realistic and sustainable," he said, adding that that could be achieved by "prevention, harm reduction, and treatment, combined with comprehensive health programs."

Then the top global anti-drug bureaucrat took on the topic of legalization. "Some people say drug use is a personal choice and nobody else's business," he said, as the room erupted with sustained applause. The room quickly quieted, however, as Costa continued: "I have some problems with this. First, this is a health issue. Drug abuse is a disease affecting the brain, triggered by individual vulnerability," he suggested, as scattered hissing and booing broke out.

"Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal, they are illegal because they are dangerous," Costa bravely soldiered on, only to be met with a crescendo of boos.

Costa also addressed the argument that drug prohibition creates violence, if only obliquely. "You say prohibition creates violence and crime by creating a lucrative black market, so legalize drugs to defeat organized crime. I agree with you, but this is not only an economic argument," he maintained. "Legalization will increase the damage done to individuals and society."

For Costa, there are no drug users, only "addicts" who need help. "Why do we have these ideological debates about drug addiction?" he complained. "People aren't divided about treating tuberculosis or AIDS."

Careful to repeatedly mention that he supported harm reduction as well as prevention and treatment, Costa called on the audience to join him as an "extremist of the center" in an effort to destroy demand for drugs. "We all want to help the farmers and the drug addicts and reduce the crime and violence," he said. "Let us build on this common ground to build a safer and healthier world."

Costa's positions did not go unchallenged. Immediately following him at the podium was Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of the International Harm Reduction Development program at the Open Society Institute, who went through a litany of repression of drug users: ranging from Russia, where police often block them from gaining access to health care; to China, where police wait outside needle exchanges and arrest people on the way out; to Thailand, where authorities killed thousands of suspected drug users in 2003; to India, where throwing users in cages passes as drug treatment; and Kazakhstan, where female users are subjected to body searches and forced to engage in sex acts to get their seized drugs back.

"When you look at the UNODC report on drug treatment in India," she noted, "those people in the cages are going to be counted. There are no standards for what is drug treatment; the numbers are self-reported."

Costa took even more flak at a lunchtime question and answer session immediately following the presentation. As attendees eager to see the exchange packed the room past capacity, a cavalcade of drug policy reformers and scholars took aim at the UNODC head and his arguments.

"This is a healthy opening," said UC Santa Cruz sociologist Craig Reinarman, who praised Costa for his fortitude in coming to the conference and his charm in making his case. "If you're wrong on most of the arguments, it helps if you're charming." Reinarman challenged Costa on his prescription to deal with drug users by subjecting them to drug treatment. "We agree on making treatment available to all who want it, but the vast majority of people who use illicit drugs do not become addicts who need treatment. The idea that you will treat people who don't have a disease flies in the face of everything I know about medicine," Reinarman said.

He also attacked Costa's claim that reducing supply would reduce demand and the problems attendant with drug use. "The availability of drugs is not correlated with drug problems," he said, citing the case of the Netherlands. "It is surrounded by countries with far more restrictive prohibitionist policies that also have higher figures for use, addiction, overdose deaths, and the like. The notion that there is a correlation between repressive drug policies and use levels is just not borne out by the facts."
Costa did not respond directly to Reinarman, instead diverting the observation by claiming that the Netherlands had "poisoned Europe" with amphetamines produced there, probably an even less apt reference to Dutch production of ecstasy, which in UN-speak is an "amphetamine-type stimulant."

Wealthy San Francisco libertarian John Gilmore reproved Costa for talking treatment while continuing to endorse repression of drug use. "We don't prosecute diabetics," he noted. Costa did not respond.

"Most of what you said flew in the face of reality," chided Pat O'Hare, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association, who took special umbrage at Costa's repeated call for tackling the problem through reducing demand. "We don't know how to reduce demand," he said bluntly. "I want regulation; right now, we have almost no control. I'm prepared to accept slightly more drug use, but a load less harm."

Again, Costa failed to respond directly, although he grew increasingly testy. In response to a query about medical marijuana, he almost sneered: "I don't believe in buying joints," he said. "You don't need to lick mold to get penicillin," he said, eliciting groans and jeers from the crowd.

To charges that the global prohibition regime he cheerleads is financing terrorism and political violence around the globe, Costa agreed that indeed groups like the FARC in Colombia and the Taliban in Afghanistan were profiting from the black market drug trade. "The best response is to quit buying that stuff," was the solution he proffered, a response that brought laughter and jeers.

And with that, the UN's head drug-fighter was gone, off to catch a plane for New York as the conference attendees collectively took a deep breath and scratched their heads. Whether Costa was persuaded to see the errors of his ways remains to be seen, and, given his performance Thursday, that seems most unlikely. But the fact that the top global drug-fighter felt it necessary to enter the lion's den and take on the pride suggests that the movement is making progress. As that old agitator Mahatma Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."

[Editor's Note: The New Orleans conference continues through Saturday. Look for more reports in the Chronicle next week and some blog posts in the meantime.]

Visit http://www.drugwarrant.com for extensive blogging from the conference, and check back at http://stopthedrugwar.org too.

Southwest Asia: US Plan For Aerial Spraying of Afghan Poppies on Hold -- for Now

The US government has given up for now on efforts to persuade the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai to allow aerial spraying of the country's opium poppy crop, Reuters quoted a senior US government official as saying Wednesday. The US State Department and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) had pushed hard for spraying, but ran into opposition not only from the Afghans, but also from the US's European allies and even other parts of the US government, including the Congress and the Pentagon, which fears such an effort could backfire and drive Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban.

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incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
"We've talked to President Karzai about the program we want to work with him on this season," Thomas Schweich, the US coordinator on counternarcotics in Afghanistan, told the news agency. "He has said he doesn't want to do aerial eradication so we won't do aerial eradication. If he changes his mind, we will," Schweich said in Brussels.

Instead of aerial spraying of herbicides, Schweich said, the US will rely on ground eradication. A ground eradication program this year managed to eradicate only 9% of the crop, according to the United Nations.

"That program is going to continue," Schweich said. "It got about 15-16,000 hectares last year. We didn't think it was enough so we are going to monitor very closely whether it is down equitably," he said, adding that there are signs some powerful figures in Afghanistan are using their positions to ensure their fields are not targeted.

Afghanistan produced 93% of the world's opium supply this year, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in a report released last month. In addition to finding their way into the pockets of corrupt government officials and poor Afghan farmers, profits from the opium trade have also fueled the Taliban insurgency, leaving Western policy-makers with a real dilemma: Do they crack down on opium and drive farmers into the hands of the Taliban or do they turn a blind eye and watch opium profits buy shiny new weapons for the Taliban? Prohibition appears to have created a lose-lose situation for the West.

Latin America: Ecuador President Jerks Washington's Chain Over Manta Air Base

If the US wants to keep using a drug war air base in Ecuador, it must let Ecuador open a military base in Miami, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told Reuters in an interview in Italy Monday. Correa, a popular leftist leader, promised during the 2006 election campaign that he would never renew the 10-year lease for the air base at Manta, in northern Ecuador.

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President Correa
"We'll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami -- an Ecuadorian base," Correa said in Italy. "If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorian base in the United States."

US officials consider Manta critical to anti-drug surveillance on Pacific drug-smuggling routes. The lease on the base, negotiated with a previous government, is set to run out in 2009. Correa said earlier that he would chop his arm off before he renewed the lease.

According to a US embassy in Quito fact sheet, over 60% of illegal drug seizures in the eastern Pacific in recent years resulted from intelligence gathered thanks to the air base. The fact sheet said that 15 permanent and up to 150 rotating US military personnel involved in anti-drug activities are stationed at the base at any given time.

The fact sheet sought to portray the base in the best possible light, even resorting to noting that the base's "full-time Ecuadorian employees include persons with physical challenges whom the [base] is helping to integrate into the workforce through an innovative program" and that the base "provides financial support to multiple local charities in an effort to be good citizens and guests in Manta. US personnel help tutor English in a local community center and support charities including orphanages and a school for children with disabilities."

But embassy PR wheedling notwithstanding, Correa is tapping into broad public resentment of the base, much of which is rooted in dislike for Plan Colombia and suspicion about what other uses the US could put the base to. Correa campaigned strongly against Plan Colombia in the 2006 election, as tensions between the neighbors heightened over US-backed aerial fumigation of Colombian coca groups and its impact on adjacent Ecuadorian territory.

"The nationwide position not to involve Ecuador in Plan Colombia is the first reason why Ecuadorians do not want the US military to remain in Manta," Fredy Rivera, professor and researcher with the Ecuadorian branch of the Latin American University for Social Sciences, told ISN Security Watch during a recent interview. A second reason for Ecuadorian opposition to the base was suspicion over US plans, he said. "The surveillance equipment can be used to watch activity in Colombia, Peru, parts of Venezuela and Bolivia, and of course Ecuador," Rivera said, adding, "this is official discourse."

But even though Correa is refusing to renew the base's lease and has publicly called President Bush a "dimwit," he rejected the idea that rejecting the base should hurt US-Ecuadorian relations. "This is the only North American military base in South America," he said. "So, then the other South American countries don't have good relations with the United States because they don't have military bases? That doesn't make any sense."

Southwest Asia: Opium Accounts for Maybe Half of Taliban Funding, US Commander Says

Black market opium production under the global drug prohibition regime is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of the Taliban, the top US commander in Afghanistan said last week. The opium trade accounts for as much as 40% of Taliban revenues, and that could be a conservative estimate, said Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

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incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
"It is my best subjective estimate that the insurgency enjoys fiscal resources from the cultivation of poppy probably to the level of 20% to 40% of its total fiscal resources," the general told journalists at a Kabul press conference. But he added that international experts had told him his figure was low-ball, and that opium could account for up to 60% of Taliban funds.

The Taliban, which has emerged revivified in the past two years, is widely believed to make money off the opium economy by taxing farmers and traders. This year, it has had the strongest presence in Afghanistan's southeast, which is also the area of the country where opium production is most prevalent.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2007 World Drug Report, the Afghan opium crop is valued at $3 billion this year, about $1 billion of which is paid to farmers. Despite increased eradication efforts this year, production increased 34% over last year. It is unclear how much opium income makes its way into the purses of the Taliban.

Afghanistan is currently producing 93% of the world's poppy crop, and that is undermining everything the Afghan government and its US and NATO allies is trying to accomplish there, said McNeill. Besides funding the insurgency and corrupting government officials, opium profits pull people away from developing the country. "People are distracted from the value of the reconstruction because of poppy cultivation and the money inherent within," he said.

Still, he said, ISAF is not eager to get more deeply involved in fighting the drug war in Afghanistan, and if it does, its role should be limited. "ISAF is neither manned, trained or equipped to be an eradication force but there are other ways... that we might be able to help," he said.

That's not what the US wants to hear, though. Washington is gearing up for heightened involvement in drug fighting, and it is pressing, so far unsuccessfully, for aerial chemical eradication of the poppy crop -- a crop which according to the UN provides a living for 14% of the Afghan population.

Editorial: Enough Already -- Stop Funding the Taliban Through Opium Prohibition

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
The drug war is in part a human rights issue. With half a million people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, with medical marijuana providers being hounded by the authorities, with needle exchange programs that are needed to save lives getting blocked, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy itself opposing San Francisco's proposed safe injection site (when did it become wrong to save lives?), with countries pressured by us to spray their lands with harmful chemicals to attack unstoppable drug crops, the United States through its drug policy has become a major human rights violator. It is a sad chapter.

We at DRCNet partly see drug reform as a human rights movement, and so ten years ago when very few Americans had heard of the Taliban, but the UN and the Clinton administration intended to fund them to do opium eradication, we condemned the Taliban in this newsletter and criticized the proposal. The fear of human rights advocates was that the brutal regime would be able to use the money to further establish its hold on power. Anyone who watched the footage of Taliban atrocities airing on US news stations after 9/11 can understand why that's a bad thing. Other reasons for opposing the Taliban are quite well known now.

Today we continue to fund the Taliban -- we don't say we do, we claim to be fighting them, we even send our soldiers to fight them in person -- but we are funding them. We are funding them by prohibiting drugs. Because drugs are illegal, they cannot be regulated, and so their source plants are grown wherever and by whomever is willing and able to gain a foothold in the market. For a large share of the global opium supply, at the moment that means Afghanistan. And the Taliban are cashing in on that.

And how. Just this week, a NATO commander said opium may provide as much as 40% of the Taliban's revenues, hundreds of millions of dollars -- some experts say it's more like 60%, he added. If opium-derived drugs were legal and regulated, that wouldn't happen. And governments are therefore at fault for creating a funding source for a movement that is destabilizing Afghanistan, that is abusing the rights of its people, and that may still be helping Al-Qaeda, all of this five years after we thought we had gotten rid of them for good.

US officials continue to press for more opium eradication, but experts agree that eradication helps the Taliban too, by driving the farmers into their arms -- of course while failing to reduce the opium crop, instead only moving it from place to place. And while Afghanistan's government has not unleashed all the eradication the US government wants, it has done enough to hurt. A hundred thousand Afghans are employed in the opium trade and don't have another way to make a living. We can't just tell them they can't grow opium anymore, and expect them to comply or that serious damage to the nation-building and counter-insurgency programs won't result.

Ten years ago, the west helped the Taliban for the sake of fighting the drug war. Today, the Taliban is an enemy, and we fight the drug war supposedly to fight them, but in the process instead help them -- see how no matter what direction the drug war compass points, one way or its opposite, it never points to anywhere good. That is why I say, enough already, stop funding the Taliban and other dangerous people through drug prohibition, legalize drugs to make this world a safer place.

Middle East: Lebanese Political Crisis Means Bumper Hash Crop

A Lebanese government paralyzed by political infighting and a Lebanese Army busy fighting with Islamic radicals have provided all the impetus necessary for farmers in the Bekaa Valley to return to their favorite cash crop: cannabis. According to Agence France Press, the valley is on track to produce its largest cannabis crop since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990.

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Persian smoking hashish (from DrugLibrary.org)
Most Lebanese cannabis is processed into hashish. It then heads for markets in Europe and the region, including Israel. Last summer, during Israel's month-long war with Hezbollah, Israeli activists called for a boycott of Lebanese hash.

But with the Lebanese government embroiled in a power struggle with Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army busy much of this spring and summer fighting to drive Islamic radicals from a Palestinian refugee camp, the Lebanese government has been unable or unwilling to crack down on hash farmers as it has in recent years.

The farmers are happy. "This has really been an exceptional year," one farmer told AFP as he surveyed his crop near a village high in the Bekaa Valley. "If the state leaves us in peace for the next three years, our agricultural crisis will be over and we should be out of the woods," he added.

The Bekaa Valley is a poor, largely Shiite region dominated by Hezbollah. It also has a long tradition of smuggling and militancy.

During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), Bekaa farmers and drug traders made about $500 million a year off hash, but under pressure from the US, a reconstituted Lebanese government took military action against farmers after the civil war, while at the same time it and the United Nations promised to assist them in developing alternative livelihoods. The farmer and his colleagues said they know they are breaking the law, but the government and the UN have failed to live up to their vows since the early 1990s.

"People are fed up and are desperate because of the bad economic situation," said the farmer, whose family has been growing cannabis for half a century. "The entire region is suffering and hashish makes for easy money."

Indeed. Hash sells for between $1000 and $1500 a pound at local markets, depending on quality. This year's crop is estimated to be worth $225 million, less than the peak years during the civil war, but far more than any year since.

Lieutenant Colonel Adel Machmouchi, head of Lebanon's Drug Enforcement Bureau, told AFP his agency had been unable to eradicate crops this summer for security reasons. "We targeted eight sectors in the Bekaa and Hermel region, but the army could not fully ensure the security of my agents in light of its battles with the Islamists at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp," he said.

Machmouchi also complained that farmers from whom his agents planned to rent tractors to mow down the crops reneged at the last minute, saying they had received threats. Machmouchi's men ran into more than threats when they finally found tractors, he said.

"We had managed to find two tractors from the southern Bekaa region and as we were eradicating the hashish they started shooting at us and we were forced to pull back," he said. "We wanted to go back the next day but we knew that they were waiting for us and we didn't want the situation to escalate so we dropped it."

The government can threaten farmers with long prison sentences, but as long as the central government fails to respond to farmers' requests for development assistance, they will resort to growing cannabis, said Jihad Sakr, head of social services for the neighboring Hermel region. "People need to send their kids to school, they need medical care, they need to eat and they are desperate," he said. "So it's all nice and dandy to make them promises, but if they don't give them any subsidies they have no other option."

The UN, for its part, told AFP it was currently working on an alternative development scheme for farmers in Hermel and the Bekaa. Ironically, the plan is for farmers to grow hemp. "We are in the process of setting up the program and hope to implement it on the ground by next year," said Edgar Chehab, head of the energy and environment division at the United Nations Development Program.

Southeast Asia: Burmese Opium Production on the Rise

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that opium production is rising dramatically in Burma, now known officially as Myanmar. Poppy planting was up 29%the first half of this year, while opium production jumped by 46%, according to a UNODC report on opium cultivation in Southeast Asia.

Along with Laos and Thailand, Burma made up Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle of opium production, at one time a major source of opium on the global market. But Thailand has been almost opium free for 20 years, and Laos has reduced opium production by 94% in less than a decade.

While hailing the end of the Golden Triangle as a major opium producing area, UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa called the situation in Burma "extremely alarming." The increases this year, he noted, make Burma the world's number two opium supplier behind Afghanistan, which dominates the trade with more than 90% of global supply.

The report found that opium production in Burma is concentrated almost entirely in two areas of the country, the South and East Shan States. The Shan States are also producing methamphetamine, Costa noted.

Costa called for strengthening controls over precursor chemicals, more forceful anti-corruption measures, and alternative development schemes for farmers.

Southwest Asia: US Turns Up the Pressure to Spray Poppy Fields, Afghan Government Resists -- So Far

US drug warriors have long wanted to unleash herbicidal sprays as a weapon to put a dent in Afghanistan's burgeoning opium poppy crop, but the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai -- along with a number of NATO allies -- has staunchly resisted American entreaties. In the wake of the country's record-breaking opium harvest this year, however, the Americans are turning up the pressure, but so far to no avail.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Afghanistan produced 93% of the global opium supply this year, and is increasingly exporting refined heroin as well as raw opium, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. While the Afghan government has undertaken manual eradication campaigns, they have been of limited effectiveness, reaching less than 10% of the crop this year.

For the Americans, eradicating the poppy crop is a key goal in Afghanistan, not only for traditional drug policy reasons, but also because some of the profits from the crop, estimated at $3 billion this year, end up financing the Taliban insurgency via taxes the rebels impose on farmers and merchants.

But for the Karzai administration, as well as some NATO countries with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and some surprising elements of the US government including the Pentagon and the CIA, a massive aerial eradication campaign runs the risk of destabilizing the Afghan government by alienating farmers and pushing them into the waiting arms of the Taliban. The Afghan government has also raised health and environmental concerns about the widespread use of chemical herbicides, particularly glyphosate, or Roundup, which is the poison the Americans are pushing.

For at least two years, a cavalcade of top American officials, including President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor Stephen Hadley, and drug czar John Walters, have met with Karzai to try to convince him to change his stance -- to no avail. In April of this year, the Bush administration named William Wood the new ambassador to Kabul, fresh off a four-year stint as ambassador to Colombia, scene of the largest US-backed aerial eradication campaign against a drug crop. In August, US officials began turning up the heat.

"Aerial eradication is undoubtedly the most effective way," Thomas Schweich, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told a news conference in Kabul in August. "You go in, you get large blocks of land in a very short period of time. You do it with minimal loss of life, since you don't have to fight your way in and you don't have to fight your way out. You don't ever negotiate with anybody," he said.

"We are working to convince the key ministers and President Karzai to accept this strategy," a US official "who asked not to be identified because of the issue's political sensitivity" told the New York Times this week. "We want to convince them to show some power. The government has to show its power in the remote provinces."

This weekend, State Department officials took the unusual step of sending one of its top crop-eradication experts to Kabul to attempt to persuade the Afghan government that glyphosate is safe. The expert, Charles Helling, a senior scientific adviser to the department's bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, met with Afghan officials who have publicly opposed the use of herbicides to wipe out the poppy crop.

"He is here to explain what it is and how it works. He is here to discuss the science of glyphosate, not to persuade anyone they should be spraying from planes or anything," an unnamed embassy official told Reuters. But the implication was clear: Glyphosate is safe and should be adopted by the Afghan government.

But as of this week, the Afghans weren't buying. "We have rejected the spraying of poppy in Afghanistan for good reasons: the effect on the environment, other smaller crops and on human genetics," the acting minister for counter-narcotics, General Khodaidad, told the
Guardian
Tuesday. "It was a very friendly discussion, but it is difficult to change our mind," he added. "We listened to their experts and they listened to our experts and they eventually accepted our position would not change. Our responsibility is to the people of Afghanistan."

Still, the pressure is on. There are hints the Karzai government may seek to alleviate some of it by okaying a limited ground spraying project this coming spring, but so far the Afghans are standing firm.

Latin America: US Plans to Supersize Mexico Drug War Aid -- $1.4 Billion Package in Works

Move over, Plan Colombia -- here comes Plan Mexico. Tucked into the Pentagon's massive budget request is at least $1.4 billion in anti-drug aid for Mexico, the Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday. The aid package, which would be spread over two-years according to the report, represents a nearly twenty-fold increase over current anti-drug aid levels, which are estimated at about $40 million this year.

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cash carefully stacked for camera following bust last March by DEA and Mexican authorities
US and Mexican officials speaking off the record told the Morning News the two countries have agreed on the aid package, which will reportedly include better training and high-tech tools to combat the drug trafficking organizations that are engaged in bloody wars among themselves and with the Mexican government, but will not involve US troops.

According to the latest reports, some 2,000 people have been killed in drug prohibition-related violence in Mexico this year, eclipsing last year's toll of 1,900. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has responded vigorously, deploying more than 20,000 Mexican army troops in drug producing states and cities plagued by cartel violence. That move has been harshly criticized by the government's own human rights office, but welcomed in Washington as a sign of strength and commitment.

Officials from both sides of the Rio Grande told the Morning News the power of the drug traffickers posed a threat to both countries. "We either win together or we lose together," said Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora in interviews last month.

The legislative process is weeks from completion, and officials said there will be hearings on the proposed massive aid increase in coming days or weeks. It will undoubtedly be challenged on the Hill, both by those skeptical of investing money in "corrupt" Mexico and by those skeptical of massive foreign anti-drugs programs. Still, it could well pass, given broader congressional concern about the border.

Some skepticism is coming from unexpected quarters. Phil Jordan, former head of the DEA's Dallas office, told the newspaper the aid could end up as money being poured down a rat hole. "Until you reduce US demand for drugs and weed out the immense corruption among Mexico's law enforcement, pouring more US money into Mexico won't necessarily solve the problem," he said.

Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora agreed in part with Jordan, but also raised another issue. "The US government needs to do more in reducing the drug consumption, and it needs to do its part in the equation of stopping the flow of cash and weapons," he said. "The US law is too flexible, too permissive when it comes to gun possession, and unfortunately many of those guns, particularly high-power assault weapons, too often end up in the hands of ruthless drug cartels."

Look for a coming battle in Congress as the defense appropriation bill moves forward.

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, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 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, Kratom, 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