Monday, December 22, 2008

California Cops To Feds: Please Help Us Break The Law!

This from NORML

It’s been twelve years since California voters approved the physician-supervised use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana, and it’s been nearly five years since the state legislature mandated that, “qualified patients … who associate within the state of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes, shall not … be subject to state criminal sanctions.”

Too bad nobody told the cops.

According to papers recently submitted to Congress by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, representatives from the California Police Chiefs Association believe that they can simply override laws that they philosophically disagree with.

Here’s what Association President Steve Krull had to say about this matter in a 2006 letter to former DEA head Karen Tandy: “[A] concentrated effort [by the DEA in California] sustained over a period of time would send a strong message to local and county government that ‘medical marijuana’ is not allowed [in this state.]”

Except for the fact that it is.

Jacob Sullum over at nails the situation here, but my added frustration comes from mainstream media’s utter failure to cover this story. Forget that this topic has any connection to marijuana; the larger and more far reaching issue here is that we now have physical evidence that a rogue group of law enforcement officers are trying to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Perhaps if this sort of behavior was taking place in a foreign country, the US news media would be investigating the issue seriously. But instead the guilty parties are our own police officers, so the mainstream press simply sweeps the story under the rug.

Nothing to see here, except there is.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

.The Lure of Opium Wealth Is a Potent Force in Afghanistan. LA Times Report


Western officials warn of a nascent narco state as drug traffickers act with impunity, some allegedly with the support of top officials

By Paul Watson, L.A Times Staff Writer
May 29, 2005

Kunduz, Afghanistan

Like a frustrated hunter, the head of the local anti-drug squad keeps snapshots of the ones who got away.

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One photo shows a prisoner wearing a flat, round pakol hat, standing in front of 10 pounds of opium packaged in plastic bags laid out on a table. Lt. Nyamatullah Nyamat took the picture on the February day he arrested the suspect. Hours later, the man was freed.
The stocky, plain-spoken cop glumly tossed another photo onto a desk in his basement office as if playing a losing hand of cards. In this one, a man in a white pillbox cap is handcuffed to a police officer and standing next to 62 pounds of opium. A local judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison. A higher court ordered his release.
One of Nyamat's biggest catches, arrested with 114 pounds of heroin, a derivative of opium, hadn't even appeared in court when the local prosecutor let him go in late March.
Nyamat said that was normal in Kunduz, a hub on one of the world's busiest drug-smuggling routes.
Three and a half years after the United States led an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, the United Nations and the U.S. government warn that the country is in danger of becoming a narco-state controlled by traffickers. The State Department recently called the Afghan drug trade "an enormous threat to world stability." The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan produces 87% of the world's opium.
For decades, poor farmers trying to make a living in Afghanistan's mountain valleys have harvested the opium poppies that feed the world's drug pipeline. Now the trade is booming, partly the result of the U.S. strategy for overthrowing the Taliban and stabilizing the country after two decades of war.
U.S. troops forged alliances with warlords, who provided ground forces in the battle against the Taliban. Some of those allies are suspected of being among Afghanistan's biggest drug traffickers, controlling networks that include producers, criminal gangs and even members of the counter-narcotics police force. They are willing to make deals with remnants of the Taliban if the price is right.
The U.S.-backed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has brought some of those warlords into his popularly elected government, a recognition of their political clout and a calculated risk that keeping them close might make it easier to control them.
"Drug money is absolutely supporting terrorist groups," said Alexandre Schmidt, deputy head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan. And regardless of their allegiance, Schmidt said, most suspects are released within 48 hours because of intervention by higher authorities.
Kunduz, in northeastern Afghanistan, is one of the front lines in what Karzai calls a holy war on drugs. It is just a 90-minute drive from the border with Tajikistan, where low-grade smack starts the next leg of its journey to the streets of Europe.
Nyamat says that as fast as he and his men can catch the smugglers, corrupt officials spring them. Many others are untouchable because they have important friends.
Nyamat carries a handwritten list, four neatly folded pages, to record his losing score. Reading it recently, he shook his head in disgust. Only three of 17 suspects arrested this year were still in prison.
"We have the complete ID list of all smugglers … but we cannot arrest them because they have the power now, not us," he said.
The list of those suspected of involvement in the drug trade reaches high into Karzai's government.
Nyamat and an Afghan trafficker singled out Gen. Mohammed Daoud, a former warlord who is Afghanistan's deputy interior minister in charge of the anti-drug effort.
An official of a human rights commission in eastern Afghanistan said police in Nangarhar province routinely ignored drug traffickers and other well-connected criminals, even though they took a strict stand against poppy growing. The provincial police are under the command of Hazrat Ali, a warlord who provided the bulk of the Afghan ground force that aided U.S. soldiers in the attempt to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in late 2001.
Daoud and Ali deny the charges.
U.S. allies are not the only ones reaping the drug bonanza. Taliban guerrillas also have a share in the opium and heroin trade, which the United Nations estimates is worth $3 billion a year. Warlords who once fought them collect a tax on drug shipments heading to Iran, Pakistan or Tajikistan. As long as the Taliban pay cash, they are pleased to let bygones be bygones, said police and two drug traffickers who claimed to have done business with the militants.
Some drug barons have changed their ways because they have already made millions of dollars and now see their self-interest in reform and politics, said a senior Western official involved in the anti-drug effort.
"Others are still involved in drug trafficking and today are part — at the highest level — of government," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The idea is not to leave them in the provinces anymore, but to bring them on board in official positions in order to better control them."
But the official said he doubted the strategy would work.
Still, the U.N. and the Afghan government predict that this year's opium harvest will be at least 30% smaller than last year's 4,200 tons, partly because of a more aggressive eradication effort. The law of supply and demand has helped too. A glut has driven down prices and profits. But the smaller harvest is expected to push prices back up and encourage more planting and trafficking.
It is crucial for the Afghan government and foreign donors to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to farmers before the next planting season this year to make it unnecessary for them to grow opium poppies, said Schmidt, the U.N. official. Sufficient money has been pledged, but some governments have failed to make good on their promises, he said. And continuing insecurity in large parts of the country makes development work difficult.
Schmidt said he was certain that the poppy crop this year would be smaller than last year's. "But the question is 2006."
More than 2,000 years ago, much of Kunduz was a swamp. Alexander the Great stopped here for fresh horses as he pressed south in 329 BC in his conquest of much of the known world.
Today it's a dust-blown smugglers' paradise.
As they have for generations, horses decorated with small pompoms and bells clip-clop through the city, pulling carts that are used as taxis. The police chief of Kunduz province, former militia commander Gen. Mutaleb Baig, is also a throwback to the old Afghanistan. Instead of a police uniform, he prefers a green quilted coat, which he drapes over his shoulders like a chieftain's cloak.
In late 2001, U.S. Special Forces and Central Intelligence Agency operatives worked with the Northern Alliance rebel group to besiege thousands of Taliban soldiers in Kunduz. The fight to take the city helped form close ties between U.S. forces and warlord Daoud, who had been finance secretary to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who was assassinated two days before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Before the attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, State Department officials had often cited Northern Alliance drug trafficking as one reason the U.S. should not publicly support the anti-Taliban militia.
But police and traffickers interviewed in Kunduz said Daoud did more than use narcotics to help fund the fight against the Taliban: He made drug smuggling a family business. They said he continued to profit from the opium and heroin trade even after Karzai brought him into the central government last August.
Nyamat, a former intelligence agent who has been on the police force for 25 years, accused Daoud's brother, Haji Agha, of handling the family drug business for Daoud, and he said that when his men arrested small-scale smugglers, the deputy minister had them released.
Nyamat, whose almond-shaped eyes are reminiscent of Genghis Khan's Mongols, who swept through Afghanistan in the 13th century, said four of his own officers moonlighted for drug traffickers. Even counting them, his unit is 15 officers short of full strength.
He got up from his desk in a basement office of the Kunduz police station, closed two small windows, and lowered his voice. He said he couldn't trust anyone, least of all provincial chief Baig, a former deputy to Daoud.
Nyamat alleged that Baig's officers had undermined his efforts by rationing gas and refusing to provide armed backup during drug raids. Baig has fired him four times. The commander of the anti-drug force in Kabul keeps reinstating him.
Nyamat said he had reported his suspicions several times to his superiors, and in November he approached American officials working with the counter-narcotics police in Kabul. When nothing resulted from the discussions, he sent a trusted deputy to the Afghan capital to complain again in late February.
Daoud denied involvement in the drug trade but said other senior government officials, police and militia commanders were guilty of it.
He said in an interview that he and his brother had never had anything to do with opium or heroin, and said no Northern Alliance commander had ever trafficked narcotics, because Massoud did not tolerate it. He accused enemies of spreading lies about him.
"If there is even one [drug] case that I'm involved in, I am ready to be punished," Daoud said.
Western officials involved in the anti-drug effort said privately that Daoud was once a trafficker but that they now trusted him as a committed leader in the fight against narcotics.
"Gen. Daoud is absolutely a key element in the eradication effort," said Schmidt, the U.N. official.
The United Nations estimates that Afghan opium, morphine and heroin feed the habits of 10 million addicts, or two-thirds of the world's opiate abusers. Afghan narcotics kill about 10,000 people a year, it says. Europe is the most lucrative market.
Until last year, Afghanistan was known as an opium exporter, not a major heroin producer. But with the poppy boom, and post-Taliban instability, small heroin labs sprang up in hundreds of villages. Even if police find them, they are easily replaced.
One Kunduz trafficker, a man in his late 20s with a wool hat resting high on his head, said an average lab had 10 barrels, a pressing machine, cotton filters and acetic anhydride, an acid, to refine opium paste into heroin powder.
The trafficker estimated that there was enough opium stashed in village wells and other hiding places to keep labs and smugglers working for 10 to 15 years, even if poppy cultivation stopped entirely. Schmidt said that was probably an underestimation.
Early last year, Karzai set up the paramilitary Special Narcotics Force, which answers only to him and his interior minister. Officials refused to provide details on its size and capabilities.
The Interior Ministry says the force carried out 12 operations in three of the country's 34 provinces last year, destroying 70 labs and 88 tons of opiates — about 2% of Afghanistan's production.
In late February, Afghan forces and American advisors from the Drug Enforcement Administration delivered 1.5 tons of heroin, opium and hashish to the counter-narcotics police headquarters in Kabul. The drugs were seized from homes and shops during three months of raids in southern Helmand province, said Muhibullah Ludin, a senior official in the newly formed Counter-Narcotics Ministry.
"It wasn't very well hidden because it's so common there," he said. "Right now they're trying to make it a bit more secret because so many people are being detained."
In the lobby of the police station, officers laid out a long row of burlap and plastic sacks, several stained with gooey black opium gum, and weighed each sack on a freight scale in the corner. They also spilled out individual plastic bags packed with almost pure heroin, an off-white powder that looks like flour, to count them on the floor. There were 559 1-kilo bags — more than 1,200 pounds.
It seemed an impressive haul, but DEA advisors watched the count skeptically.
"Trying to get rid of drugs in Afghanistan is like trying to clear sand from a beach with a bucket," said an American counter-narcotics agent.
The three-month operation resulted in charges against only one trafficker, Ludin said. A Western diplomat involved in the effort said that the special force had not gone after the people behind the drug networks yet because the justice system was too weak.
"We find it difficult to get any successful prosecutions of any significant traffickers, basically because people pay bribes," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
With foreign assistance, the Afghan government is setting up special courts to try traffickers, with added security to protect investigators, prosecutors and judges. They will start with low-level cases and gradually move up the drug trafficking chain as they gain confidence, the Western official said.
Judges are easily bribed because they earn only about $100 a month, Schmidt said.
"We'll be monitoring it very, very carefully in order to respond to any problems in the prosecution of these cases," he said. "But I cannot tell you today that everything will be utterly beautiful and perfect."
The Kunduz trafficker said he wasn't worried.
He counts Daoud as one of his connections. Late in the summer of 2003, he said, Daoud helped him retrieve heroin worth $200,000 that had been seized at the Salang Tunnel, a link between southern and northern Afghanistan that is 11,000 feet up in the Hindu Kush mountains. Daoud denied this, saying drugs were never seized at the tunnel and that the trafficker was lying.
The trafficker also said he had sold a large consignment of heroin last year that had yet to be smuggled into Iran from the southwestern province of Nimruz. Premium Afghan heroin going to the West through Iran fetches a higher price and is less likely to be seized.
He predicted that the government crackdown would be good for business. Increased arrests and interdiction would cut competition and reduce the glut that forced down prices by two-thirds last year.
"The more restrictions, the more the business will boom," the trafficker said. "The price will go high, the number of dealers will go down, and my income will go up. The professional businessmen will remain. They have good connections. Whoever works hard in a business wins."
No matter where Afghan narcotics are headed, most of them pass through Kabul, a transit point on the main route linking poppy fields and labs in east and north to border smuggling routes.
Each day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., police set up checkpoints on the edge of the capital. They ask drivers the "Seven Golden Questions," taught by British advisors, which include where are they coming from, where are they going and who owns the vehicle. They try to form a hunch about whether they should conduct a search.
A sniffer dog named Warsola, a German shepherd trained in Kazakhstan to take commands in Pashto, stands by in a cage, eager to root out hidden drugs. The police also have a camera probe, a long black hose with a tiny lens on the tip, which allows them to peer into gas tanks and radiators.
But at the end of the day, the outmatched police, paid $60 a month, lock up their weapons, go home and wait for death threats. They worry about their families.
"When I leave my house I tell my children, 'Please don't go out.' And I tell them, 'If you need anything, please tell me. I will bring it to you,' " Mohammed Nazir said. "We are afraid.
"Even if a cat jumps into my house, I get scared and I think that there is somebody in the house to kill me."
Nazir's 13-member team has arrested more than 30 suspected drug traffickers since it started work nine months ago. The team's first bust was of uniformed police officers armed with hand grenades and guns. They were caught with 24 pounds of opium in a knapsack in a civilian car. They said they had no idea that the drugs were there, Nazir said.
One of the unit's most dangerous arrests was last summer, when it discovered more than 400 pounds of opium concealed in the cabin of a gas tanker coming from northern Afghanistan. The smuggler had tried to mask the musky opium smell with piles of melons.
When police confronted the driver, he used his cellphone to call for help. Then he offered a bribe, and when that didn't work, he invoked the name of Gen. Haji Mohammed Almas, a Northern Alliance warlord, whose forces are suspected in many robberies and killings in the capital.
On the way to jail with their suspects, the police noticed that they were being followed by two SUVs full of gunmen. They kept their distance when the drug squad officers pulled into the jail, said Shamsuddin, a member of Nazir's unit. Like many Afghans, he uses only one name.
That night, about 1 a.m., a phone call woke him. Lying next to his wife, Shamsuddin began sweating in anger as a voice on the phone threatened him, he recalled.
"I was sweating just because he wasn't next to me," the cop snarled. "Otherwise I would have beaten him to death."
A few days later, when Shamsuddin was sitting with other officers at the drug squad's headquarters, the same man called and repeated the threat.
Nazir said traffickers had no trouble finding phone numbers to harangue counter-narcotics police at any hour. "All of these people have friends inside the government," he said.
A week after their arrest, the truck driver and his assistant walked free and drove off in their tanker.
Almas, the warlord, denied that he trafficked in drugs and declared that the police were hopelessly corrupt.
"In reality, the police are very sleepy in Kabul," he said. "And that is because all the thieves and criminals have joined the National Police. Whenever they commit a crime … they name a [militia] commander and say that his men did this."
Like many in the front-line drug squad, Shamsuddin, a 23-year police veteran, is angry that warlords with a long record of crimes and abuses in the country's wars have been promoted to top police positions, putting uniformed officers at their mercy.
"I can only trust these 12 people in my team," he said. "Our government is not a real government. I pray and hope for a day that we have a foreigner as a boss, and he is standing over our heads and controlling us. There is no management in our government and there is no authority from the Afghans."
East of Kabul, in one of Afghanistan's oldest opium-producing regions, Karzai has tried to resolve the police-warlord conflict by melding the two in the person of Hazrat Ali.
Western officials praise the Nangarhar police chief for his strict stand against poppy growing. Cultivation has been cut drastically in a region where spring usually brings fields full of red and white opium poppy flowers.
But Jandad Spin Ghar, who leads the eastern regional office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said Ali's police routinely arrested innocent people and committed other serious abuses while letting drug traffickers and other well-connected criminals go free.
"He only stopped the cultivation and he has done nothing to stop the trafficking," Spin Ghar said. "I don't understand why the U.S. and the central government are supporting him."
Daoud, the deputy interior minister, said he had summoned Ali to Kabul to answer such allegations, and was satisfied that they were false. Ali accused enemies of spreading lies about him.
"I told him, 'Look, General, I have never been in the drug business my whole life,' " Ali recalled. "I hate drugs more than anything else and neither I nor my men are involved in the drug business."
Part of the solution to Afghanistan's drug problem may lie in the soft petals and sweet scent of the Bulgarian rose. A German aid group has persuaded a dozen farmers in one Nangarhar village to grow them to see whether they can provide the essence for fine French perfumes.
Janaan Khan, a village leader in Dara-e-Noor, planted 150 rose seedlings on half an acre. They poke just a few inches out of the wet soil, which once provided bumper harvests of premium red opium. He earned about $4,000 from his last poppy crop in 2002, a fortune in a country where per capita income in 2003 was about $200, putting it among the bottom 20 nations.
It's more difficult to produce high-quality rose oil than high-grade opium, and German experts told Khan that it would take three years to find out what, if anything, their Bulgarian roses were worth.
A stiff wind can bruise the blossoms, rendering them worthless. At harvest time, farmers have just one day to gently pluck the flowers and process them into rose oil, Khan said. At most, he expects to earn a quarter of what he did from opium. But he says that would be enough for an honest living.
"I told the farmers that if this thing succeeds, then Afghanistan will be famous for flowers and perfumes, not for war and opium, and Dara-e-Noor will be as famous as Paris," Khan said, his eyes lighting up with the dream.
"I told them that these flowers will have great smell and foreigners will come from all over the world for a picnic. And they will enjoy being here. And everywhere you look there will be foreigners, and we will build guesthouses and take money from the foreigners who stay here. And we will all be rich."
Despite his outward confidence, Khan acknowledged that he was worried he might be wrong. The German aid group has promised a small cash subsidy to tide the farmers over, but Khan said it was far less than the thousands of dollars they were used to earning. They probably will wait only a year or two before they start growing opium poppies again, he said.
It's easy to see why. The village doesn't have electricity, running water or a proper school. The only road is a dirt track dotted with sharp rocks. There are too many people living on too little land; most of the farmers are sharecroppers who rent small parcels from a few wealthy landlords.
"Name a problem and these people have it," said Khan, who supports two wives and four children. "Our lives have not moved forward. They have gone backward because no matter how much aid money they have spent, we don't have any money now."
In villages across Afghanistan, powerless people such as Khan say they want to be rid of the warlords once and for all, and they wonder why Karzai is giving them more power.
"Democracy means freedom and people's government," he said. "But in Afghanistan, if you tell a [militia] commander, 'You have made these mistakes. Please quit your job,' the commander will take out a gun and kill you."
Khan's neighbor Sayyed Alam Khan lost his 6-month-old daughter, Najeda, in late February. Like many of the area's children, she lived with her family in a mud-brick house with a leaky ceiling that dripped cold water day and night. A simple cold proved fatal. Six feet of snow closed off the valley, so Khan couldn't get her to the nearest hospital in Jalalabad.
She wasn't the first of Khan's children to die. He has lost two other daughters and a son. And he has seven children left, ages 2 to 13. They huddled next to him in the smoky half-light beside a cooking fire, trying to keep warm on a cold dirt floor.
Three years ago, after his oldest son died at age 6, Khan borrowed about $5,000 from relatives. He planned to pay it back with the profit from the next year's opium harvest. But when their poppies were nearly ready, police came and ordered Khan and other villagers to destroy the plants. They were paid $5 for a day's work that wiped out their livelihood, and any hope Khan had of paying his creditors.
He has no interest in planting roses. "I will die by the time the flowers bloom," said Khan, 61. He is trying to support his family by selling firewood, but he is not earning enough to keep his creditors at bay. According to local custom, they can soon claim his eldest daughter as compensation.
A growing problem
Except during a Taliban crackdown on growers, Afghanistan's opium production has generally trended upward, no matter who was running the country.
Politics and illicit drugs
- Soviet era: Military occupies Afghanistan for a decade; mujahedin launch a guerrilla war for independence.
- Civil war: Various militias led by competing mujahedin warlords struggle for control after Soviets withdraw.
- Taliban rule: Taliban imposes strict Islamic law after seizing control in 1996, bans opium poppy cultivation in July 2000.
- U.S. invasion and postwar: U.S. drives Taliban from power in late 2001; transitional government emerges.
Opium production, in metric tons (one metric ton is equal to 1.1 U.S. tons)
1980: 200
1994: 3,400
1999: 4,600
2001: 200
2004: 4,200
The economic incentive
Despite a drop in 2004 in the income a farmer could expect from a hectare of poppies, the amount in U.S. dollars is still 12 times what a hectare of wheat would produce. (One hectare is equal to 2.47 acres.)
Income per hectare
Wheat: $470
Poppies: $12,700
Wheat: $390
Poppies: $4,600
Hectares under cultivation
Wheat: 2.3 million
Poppies: 80,000
Wheat: 1.8 million
Poppies: 131,000
Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Graphics reporting by Tom Reinken
Routes out
Opium and its derivatives, such as heroin, are smuggled out of Afghanistan in many directions and mostly overland. The bulk moves west or southwest into Iran. Smaller, roughly equal amounts move through Tajikistan and Pakistan.
To the U.S.: To reach New York City, the center of U.S. distribution, Afghan opiates are often moved into Pakistan and ultimately through Africa.
To Europe: Opium moves directly into Iran or Pakistan and then through the Balkans to Europe.
To Russia: Political instability and economic problems in Central Asia make this a common route to Europe.
Sources: Jane's Intelligence Review; U.S. State Department; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime; .

Colombia, ground crews a bigger part of the cocaine battle


Aerial spraying is still the preferred method of coca eradication but the use of manual laborers is expanding. Many take the dangerous job because of good wages; some have more personal reasons.

Reporting from Nechi, Colombia -- Cesar Lopez and his crew resemble human weed eaters, dispensing with 15 acres of illegal crops a day in the sweltering hills of north-central Colombia.
Guarded by a cordon of 120 anti-narcotics police officers, the group uses metal rods to uproot bush after bush on the steep hillside. In a gully below stands a thatched-roof laboratory where farmers processed a kilogram of coca paste a week, worth about $1,000 each, before fleeing last month, police said.

Cesar Lopez

Cesar Lopez

Method switch

Lopez leads Mobile Eradication Group 5, one of scores of 30-man teams of laborers the government has deployed across the nation to manually destroy coca crops, a program now deemed nearly as important to the drug fight as sprayed weedkiller.
On a recent day, Lopez and his comrades were on the outskirts of this river town in Antioquia state. They marched into the hills that are polka-dotted with distinctive lime green patches of the shrub whose leaves are cocaine's raw material.
"We just keep going until it's gone," said Lopez, 32, a wiry onetime narco-trafficker who gave up coca farming after tragedy struck. "I feel proud of what we do because I know from experience these bushes are the root of all that's evil in Colombia."

Spraying from crop-dusters is still the preferred eradication weapon of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-funded initiative targeting illegal drugs and terrorism. But disappointing results from years of aerial spraying, plus fears of environmental damage caused by the chemicals used, have led U.S. and Colombian officials to put more emphasis on teams like Lopez's.
This year, ground crews will destroy 250,000 acres of coca, 67% more than in 2007, compared with the 325,000 acres of coca to be sprayed this year, Colombian and U.S. officials said. Five years ago, manual eradication represented less than one-tenth of all coca crops destroyed, the officials said.
The shift is having an effect, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says. In a visit to Colombia last month, the office's director, John P. Walters, said street prices of cocaine in the States were up 6% in the 12-month period that ended June 30 and up 25% since January 2007.
Higher prices indicate that efforts to control the supply and trafficking of cocaine are working, Walters said.
"There has been a market meltdown in the cocaine business," Walters said in an e-mail to The Times. "We have made huge strides in breaking the machine that delivers addiction, violence and misery to our nations."
But Plan Colombia critics are skeptical, saying that cocaine street prices fluctuate and the White House discloses little about how its data are developed or what measurement methods it uses. Previous claims of higher prices have been challenged by news organizations that have surveyed the same urban markets the Bush administration cites.
"This White House just doesn't have the credibility to ask people to take their word for it," said John Walsh, a researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America, a watchdog organization. "If they can't back it up with data that's open to independent expert scrutiny, they're going to have a tough time convincing people."
Some say any shrinkage of the U.S. supply is explained by the growing market in Europe, where much of South America's drug production has been redirected because it can fetch higher prices there.
The police officers watching over Lopez's group acknowledge being nervous -- it's a dangerous job. Snipers with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's main rebel group and largest cocaine trafficker, frequently take aim at them from dense jungle perches that adjoin coca clearings.
At night, stealthy killers called zorros sneak up on police sentries at worker camps to attack them with knives or guns.
But the biggest danger comes from land mines that guerrillas plant in coca fields to dissuade the workers from doing their job. Often assembled with gravel, wood splinters and fecal matter encased in rubber, the mines are sometimes difficult to find, even with metal detectors and explosives-sniffing dogs.
"The terrorists have become very inventive," police Col. Harold Santamaria said.
An average of two land mines a week are detected by police. One that wasn't noticed exploded Oct. 17, blowing off the leg of a lieutenant guarding Lopez's unit. This year, in this region alone, one police guard and one eradicator have been killed and seven wounded by mines and snipers.
Since the manual eradication program began in earnest in 2003, the toll has been heavy, with dozens of soldiers, police officers and eradicators killed, including 24 in two months in 2006, when guerrillas attacked teams in Macarena National Park, a rebel stronghold.
"Psychologically, it's a heavy load," police Maj. Delfin Murillo said. "But our people never lose their spirit. They see they are having an impact."

Neither the military nor officials in Social Action, the government agency that organizes and deploys the teams, have any illusion about the difficulties of winning the drug fight.
"We can't win the war; we can only control it," said a Social Action official who asked to be identified by only his first name, Oscar, for security reasons.

Members of Lopez's crew signed up mainly for good wages. They earn nearly $500 a month, or 2 1/2 times the minimum wage.
Lopez says he has another incentive. Once a small-time coca grower and processor, Lopez says he does this work as penance for the death of his 19-year-old brother.
In 2003, his brother, Ariel, was helping Lopez grow and process coca on a small plot in the southern state of Putumayo. They had gone there from their native city of Manizales to join a Colombian version of a gold rush.

"The money was easy; I thought we had it made," Lopez said. But a rival trafficker came around one day to collect a debt, and not finding Lopez, shot his brother dead.
"I feel responsible. I'm redeeming myself by doing this work," Lopez said.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Heroin Crisis Threatens Britain, Report Say's


Despite the presence of British forces, Afghanistan has produced two record opium harvests, with Helmand province accounting for more than half the poppies grown.

A glut of opium on the world market fuelled by a record Afghan harvest threatens a new heroin crisis in Britain, the European Union drug agency warns today.

And the UK remains at the top of the European "league table" for cocaine abuse for the fifth consecutive year, according to the annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

But it reports that there are "stronger signals" of the declining popularity of cannabis across Europe, with a strong downward trend especially noticeable among British school students.
The agency suggests this decline may be a byproduct of the introduction of widespread bans on smoking tobacco in public places. Nevertheless the drugs experts say that a quarter of all Europeans - 71 million people - have tried cannabis at some point in their lives, 12 million of them within the last month.

AddAction's Andrew Horne on why Britain leads Europe in heroin and cocaine use
Link to this audio

The heroin warning follows two record opium harvests in Afghanistan of 8,200 tonnes in 2007 and 7,700 tonnes this year. These harvests represent 90% of the world's illicit opium production, with Helmand province, the centre of British military operations, accounting for more than half of the poppies grown. The agency says "alternative development" measures to persuade farmers to switch to other crops are having a very limited impact.

The EU is worried that these record harvests are threatening to bring to an end the "slowly improving" heroin situation in Britain and across Europe, and reverse the decline seen in heroin-related drug deaths. Seizures have doubled in Turkey, an important transit country, are up 10% up in Britain, and pockets of new injecting heroin users are appearing for the first time in recent years.

"Current evidence does not point to an epidemic growth in heroin problems as experienced by most of Europe in the 1990s," said the EU drugs agency director, Wolfgang Gotz. "Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the threat posed by the glut of heroin now available on the world market, the concerns raised by indicators of heroin use, or signs that synthetic opiates may be a growing problem. Vigilance is clearly required."

Britain's continuing position at top of the league table of 27 EU countries for cocaine abuse is based on the fact that 12.7% of young adults aged 15 to 34 have used the drug. Typical cocaine users in Britain are now just as likely to be poor working class young men as wealthy city traders. The latest school surveys show that 5% of teenagers aged 15 and 16 have tried the drug.

Cocaine use in Europe is concentrated in only a few countries. Use is highest in Britain and Spain but has stabilised in both countries in recent years at a level similar to that seen in the US. The increasing number of Europeans using the drug – an estimated 4 million last year - reflects its recent growth in Italy, Denmark and Ireland. The increasing popularity of cocaine has been matched by declining use of cannabis.

There is however some encouraging news about cannabis consumption in Britain. While the UK consistently had the highest levels of cannabis use among school children in the early and mid 1990s, in this European survey it has seen the sharpest decline in popularity of any EU country.

Britain is now fourth in the European league table for cannabis use amongst 15- to 24-year-olds, with 39.5% saying they have tried it and 12% saying they have used it in the last month.

The European drugs experts say domestic herbal cannabis production is no longer marginal in some EU countries, including Britain, with 2.3 million cannabis plants seized last year in Europe.

The most recent Eurobarometer poll on the subject shows increasing support for decriminalisation of cannabis, with 31% of Europeans backing the idea.

Dutch Ban Sale Of 'Magic Mushrooms'.

From Dec 1 the famous Amsterdam magic mushroom will no longer be on sale in the city. The hallucinogenic mushrooms, imported mainly from Hawaii, Mexico and Ecuador, have for years been freely available, at modest prices, in shops around the city.

Neatly packed and labelled in display cases beside regular goods like vegetables and milk, and often packed in souvenir gift wrapping, the mushrooms have been popular among mainly German, French and British tourists.

Shop owners have claimed the ban will result in hundreds of jobs being lost and are planning protest marches.

While the dried variety, which provides even stronger hallucinations, is already illegal, the decision to ban fresh magic - or psilocybin - mushrooms was taken after a 17-year-old French girl jumped to her death from one of Amsterdam's canal bridges in March after taking them.

Amsterdam city council supports the government's ban, hoping it will change the general perception of the city as a mecca for drug user and the sex industry.

Earlier this year moves were made to close down part of the city's famous red light district.

But Paul Van den Berg, who works in one of the shops that sells the mushrooms, described that ban as "a disgrace".

He said: "It's all the fault of tourists, especially the Brits. They misuse alcohol at home and come over here to do the same with hash and the so called 'magic mushrooms'."

He said that the mushrooms were intended for connoisseurs who know how to eat them properly and in the correct quantity, producing a euphoric state with the odd "pleasant hallucination".

But a city councillor said: "Despite Amsterdam having the world's most important collection of Rembrandts and Van Gogh and being home to the famous Concertgeboug Orchestra, the City is still perceived as a place where you go to buy drugs."

The Netherlands agreed legislation in July to ban cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants. However the euphemistically labelled "coffee shops" where soft drugs can be selected from a menu remain open and smokers can puff on a roll-up of marijuana on the premises, provided tobacco is not used.

Dutch tourist organisations insist that windmills, tulips and Rembrandt remain the major draw for tourists.

A Dutch magic mushroom customer said: "Sunday lunch just won't be the same. I always used the mushrooms in my stew for friends. They produce a nice relaxing glow, much better than alcohol".


Above, typical Dutch mushroom store


Dutch Marijuana Smoker Fined......For Using Tobacco.

While the Netherlands has kept its liberal policy on the smoking of cannabis in the country's legendary "coffee shops", zero tolerance is now shown to tobacco smokers in Dutch cafes and restaurants after a smoking came ban came into force last July.

An Amsterdam police spokesman admitted that it could be difficult to understand the current Dutch policy of allowing smokers to puff away on pure cannabis while fining tobacco users.

"For logic it is sometimes impossible to explain, even to the Dutch," he said.

"The man was not fined for smoking a cannabis joint but for smoking. You can smoke cannabis but not tobacco in coffee shops."

The unnamed 27-year-old man owns one of the city's coffee shops, where the purchase and smoking of cannabis is tolerated, and he is expected to contest the case in court.

It will be the first test of a Dutch smoking ban that exempts people from enjoying joints as long as only pure marijuana is used.

The man was caught lighting a hand rolled cannabis joint during a routine police check and fined because officers found tobacco mixed with the soft drug.

The smoking ban is usually enforced by municipal health and safety inspectors "but if a police officer signals an infringement, he does not close his eyes to it," said the police spokesman.

A fifth of Dutch cafes and bars are ignoring the tobacco smoking ban, which was introduced on July 1. Many are setting up special funds to collect money to pay fines issued to smokers.

Above, Dutch cannabis joint ½ weed, ½ tobacco, semi-legal ?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

US D.E.A Accused Of Drug Trafficking By Bolivian Head

Bolivian leader Evo Morales on Thursday accused the US government of encouraging drug-trafficking as he explained his decision to banish the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Morales, a staunch opponent of the Washington government, said the staff from the US agency had three months to prepare to leave the country, because "the DEA did not respect the police, or even the (Bolivian) armed forces."
"The worst thing is, it did not fight drug trafficking; It encouraged it," the Bolivian leader said, adding that he had "quite a bit of evidence" backing up his charges.
Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana presented a series of documents and press clippings at a news conference, which he described as "object data" that had influenced Morales' decision to suspend DEA activities last week.
Quintana said Morales was ready to present the evidence to incoming US president Barack Obama "to prove the illegality, abuse and arrogance of the DEA in Bolivia."
Throughout the 1990s, the DEA in Bolivia "bribed police officers, violated human rights, covered up murders, destroyed bridges and roads," said Quintana.
Morales earlier Thursday said that after a 1986 operation in Huanchaca National Park, it was determined that the largest cocaine processing plant "was under DEA protection."
He also charged that the DEA had investigated political and union leaders opposed to neoliberal economic policies, which he said amounted to political persecution.
On Wednesday, he had accused the DEA of shooting and killing Bolivians during their anti-drug operations, including members of the coca farmers' movement.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, has served as the leader of the Bolivian coca-growers union. The coca plant, from which cocaine is derived, has many uses in traditional Andean culture.
The Bolivian leader announced last Saturday he was suspending the work of the DEA in the impoverished Andean nation, and accused it of having encouraged political unrest that killed 19 people in September.
"From today all the activities of the US DEA are suspended indefinitely," the Bolivian leader had said in the coca-growing region of Chimore, in the central province of Chapare, where he was evaluating efforts to combat drug trafficking.
The DEA has denied Morales' accusations.
US President George W. Bush, in a finding released in September, added Bolivia to a list of countries that have "failed demonstrably" in anti-drugs cooperation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mexico Drug War, Sorting Good Guys From Bad

From the New York Times

MEXICO CITY - Many of the mug shots of drug traffickers that appear in the Mexican press show surly looking roughnecks glaring menacingly at the camera. An anticorruption investigation unveiled last week in the Mexican capital, however, made it clear that not everybody enmeshed in the narcotics trade looks the part.

Above, Miguel Colorado González, formerly of the attorney general’s organized crime unit.

There was a gray-haired, grandfatherly type who was pushing 70, as well as an avuncular figure with a neatly coiffed goatee and wire-rimmed spectacles perched upon his nose. Some of the five men who found themselves on the front pages of newspapers on their way to jail, wore suits, which made them look more like bureaucrats than bad guys.

Among the greatest challenges in Mexico’s drug war is the fact that the traffickers fit no type. Their ranks include men and women, the young and the old. And they can work anywhere: in remote drug labs, as part of roving assassination squads, even within the upper reaches of the government.

It has long been known that drug gangs have infiltrated local police forces. Now it is becoming ever more clear that the problem does not stop there. The alarming reality is that many public servants in Mexico are serving both the taxpayers and the traffickers.

The men in suits, it turns out, were both bureaucrats and bad guys, officials say, corrupt employees high up in an elite unit of the federal attorney general’s office who were feeding secret information to the feared Beltrán Leyva cartel in exchange for suitcases full of cash.

Their arrest, and the firing of 35 other suspect law enforcement officials, represents the most extensive corruption case that this country, which knows corruption all too well, has ever seen. And it raises a question that is on the lips of many Mexicans: how does one know who is dirty and who is clean?

“I’m convinced that to stop the crime, we first have to get it out of our own house,” President Felipe Calderón, who has made fighting trafficking a crucial part of his presidency, said in a speech on Tuesday, after the arrests were announced.

That house is clearly dirty. There is ample evidence that Mexicans of all walks of life are willing to join the drug gangs in exchange for cash, including farmers who abandon traditional crops and turn to growing marijuana and accountants who hide the narco-traffickers’ profits.

There was sporadic evidence in the past that such corruption extended into high-level government offices. An army general who commanded Mexico’s anti-drug unit was arrested and convicted in 1997 after the discovery that he was working for a drug lord on the side. In 2005, a spy working for a drug cartel was discovered working in the president’s office and accused of feeding traffickers information on the movements of Vicente Fox, then the president.

But the abundance of law enforcement officials now believed to be on the take has made Mr. Calderón’s drug war all the more difficult to execute. Traffickers often know beforehand when raids are going to occur. Sometimes dealers plant their people on the teams that carry out the raids to act as saboteurs.

The traffickers’ networks are not foolproof. Mr. Calderón’s government did manage to capture Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, a cartel leader, in January even though the group was receiving inside information. What appears to have happened, officials say, is that the army carried out the raid without involving the attorney general’s office, inadvertently keeping the corrupt officials out of the loop.

The cartel’s leaders, who operate out of Sinaloa State and have been implicated in the killing of a top police commander in Mexico City, were described in local press accounts as being furious that their government moles had not informed them of the raid.

Still, the reach of the drug networks is so extensive that even winning a court conviction against a kingpin is not always enough to claim victory.

Many prison wardens and guards have shown themselves to be corrupt, allowing prominent detainees not only to operate their crime networks from their cells, but also to use their illicit drug proceeds to be as comfortable as possible behind bars, paying for everything from pizza to prostitutes. The cartel leaders sometimes even use their money to escape. The most notorious case was in 2001, when Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the country’s most wanted drug lord, managed to slip out of a maximum security prison in a laundry cart.

The porous nature of Mexican penitentiaries has prompted Mr. Calderón to increase the number of transfers of drug lords to the United States prison system. The United States has already filed the paperwork to extradite one of the officials accused last week of corruption. The official, Miguel Colorado González, 68, was a top manager in the government organized-crime office known by the Spanish acronym Siedo.

Mr. Calderón is not the first president to try to root out corruption. President Ernesto Zedillo reorganized the nation’s federal police at least twice; each time traffickers quickly infiltrated the force and bought off leading officials. His successor, Mr. Fox, tried and failed to clean up law enforcement as well.

Mr. Calderón’s efforts have been sustained enough that the traffickers have begun a vicious counterattack; so far this year, about 4,000 people — including police officers, soldiers, criminals and civilians — have been killed in an extraordinary wave of violence linked to organized crime.

The latest corruption scandal has prompted President Calderón’s attorney general to order a restructuring and purging of his office, and specifically of Siedo, which was formed from another agency that was shut down after being infiltrated by drug spies.

The government has ordered more lie detector tests for officials in delicate posts, beefed-up background checks and better salaries for underpaid police officers. But the amount of cash that the traffickers throw around — which Jorge Chabat, a security analyst, calls “enough money to buy part of the state” — makes government salaries seem laughable. Clearly, the government cannot compete peso for peso.

In some cases, finding out who has strayed from the straight and narrow should be a simple matter of following the money. Mr. Colorado González is reported to have bought four luxury vehicles in one year. Expensive jewelry was found in his home. His bank account was bulging.

In Tuesday’s speech, a clearly frustrated Mr. Calderón said that the fight to clean up Mexico depended on citizens putting their country first and respecting the law above all else. He suggested that the small bribes so often demanded by the officer on the beat, and accepted by the public as normal, for infractions real and imagined, were not disconnected from the government official receiving millions of dollars in drug profits.

“We need a stronger society, a society that lives the principle of legality with conviction, that encourages, promotes, spreads and educates its children with values,” Mr. Calderón said. In other words, there has to be a line people will not cross, even for a suitcase full of cash.