Burmese Heroin: Hidden Deals

From The New Internationalist Magazine #280, 1996

This is a good article, but it doesn’t address the way that the American War on Drugs creates chaos and death worldwide.

Heroin’s hidden deals
Burma produces more than half the world’s raw heroin.
But who controls the lucrative drug trade now?
Faith Doherty reports.

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The announcement made at the beginning of January 1996 that Burma’s opium warlord Khun Sa had surrendered to the country’s ruling junta caught virtually all parties by surprise. Since his surrender it has become clear – as suggested by many Burma-watchers over the years – that Khun Sa’s departure will not greatly alter the situation. The fact that Burma supplies more than half of the world’s heroin has never depended on one man or one organization.

In the United States 60 per cent of heroin sold on the streets originates from the Golden Triangle and the region has been a major focus of anti-narcotic agencies and governments for decades – with little apparent effect. The previous General Ne Win-led governments and the present SLORC junta have all approached the drug problem in Burma by playing a two-faced game: on one side requesting support from the West to eradicate drugs and do battle with Khun Sa, and on the other, doing lucrative deals with drug kingpins. And opium is Burma’s most lucrative cash crop.

Now that the junta has secured military ceasefires with all ethnic rebel groups dependent on the opium economy for their survival, the surrender of Khun Sa should ensure that the spotlight again goes back on to Rangoon. But will it? Since Khun Sa’s surrender, the junta has stated that it will militarily control the territory previously held by Khun Sa and his Mong Tai Army. The junta has further promised that there will be a 70-per-cent reduction in the flow of heroin from Burma now that the prime growing areas have ‘joined the legal fold’. Time will tell. But given that the military have repeatedly reiterated their hatred for the ‘notorious drug-lord Khun Sa’, and that their past statements have ruled out both dialogue and any agreement with him or with the Mong Tai Army, such statements must be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

Khun Sa’s Shan people are not alone in their struggle with warlords, the junta and dependence on the opium economy. Other ethnic nationalities, such as the Wa and Kokang, have long been involved in the cultivation of opium to fund their fight for independence from Rangoon. In the late 1980s both the Wa and Kokang concluded ceasefire agreements with Rangoon. Yet their cultivation and sale of opium continues essentially unchanged. The junta used military force to drive both ethnic groups to sign these ceasefire agreements – no significant political settlements have been made.

For years the US used Khun Sa as their big bogey of the Golden Triangle: Khun Sa was Public Enemy Number One. Other drug-lords in the area, meanwhile, have become more influential but have kept much lower profiles. Despite considerable evidence that other groups and individuals were involved in the multi-billion dollar industry, there were many who believed Khun Sa’s capture would severely damage the flow of heroin. The logical next step for anti-narcotics officials was to work closely with the junta as the only way to have an impact on the export of heroin. This position failed to understand that the Shan people themselves saw their struggle not as a drug war but as a national struggle for self-determination. There is now an uncomfortable silence from those who pushed to empower the junta. Anti-narcotic officials are now forced to admit that Khun Sa’s surrender is likely to have little or no impact on the flow of heroin.

In 1989 and 1992 indictments were handed down in New York courts against Khun Sa. But after his surrender, the junta announced that it would not hand him over to US authorities for extradition and trial. The US responded by offering two million dollars for any information leading to his arrest. According to sources in Rangoon, the last thing the authorities would do is hand over the drug-baron. The reason is simple: he knows far too much and would be in a position to expose too many influential people, including junta members, involved in the trade.

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Recent reports published through wire agencies in Bangkok revealed that Khun Sa has been paying a Burmese regional commander a monthly fee of around $5,000 a month (the average monthly wage for a Burmese citizen is under $25 a month). A ‘large sum’ of money was also paid to a Burmese army general, apparently in order to secure his surrender and peaceful retirement. Reports of this kind have not surfaced so openly in the past few years, but it is widely known that there are members of the authorities in Rangoon on the payroll of drug traders, including prominent past kingpins, such as Lo Hseing Han.

At the time of writing, it’s harvest time for opium in Burma. Khun Sa is not there to send his men to pick, nor are the mule trains lined up to carry the crop through his territory to his refineries. What will happen to the thousands of tonnes of opium currently being picked by ethnic people, people who now depend entirely on the business that Khun Sa and others have created? With other drug dealers only too ready to step in, it is unlikely this vast harvest will go to waste. As for the junta, this is the time for them to show their sincerity about drug control.

Corrupt generals are an old story in Burma, but SLORC control of the Shan opium-growing regions is new. It is now up to the junta to turn off the heroin spigot, if this is their true intention. The world is waiting. If heroin continues to flow unabated onto the streets of New York, Los Angeles and Rangoon, there will be only one culprit now. We can only hope that Khun Sa’s departure wakes up all those concerned with the Golden Triangle heroin problem to its only real solution: an end to the political crisis in Burma.

Faith Doherty is a Burma-watcher working with the Southeast Asian Information Network (SAIN) in Bangkok.

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Why Gaza? War and Conquest – Politics as Usual for the Empire

Over at Antiwar.com Justin Raimondo has put up a piece, Why Gaza? which explains the situation in the world and in Israel that gives rise to the latest assault on Gaza.

Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.”

This nails it: it shows why Israel escalated a series of routine border incidents into a major conflict: Hamas was ready to negotiate. Jabari was going to drop a gigantic “peace bomb” on Tel Aviv, and Netanyahu and his cabinet launched a preemptive strike to make sure it never hit its target. The last thing they wanted was peace breaking out in spite of their systematic provocations.

Hamas is useful to Netanyahu and his coalition partner, wannabe ethnic cleanser Avigdor Lieberman…

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Faced with the IDF’s overwhelming military superiority, Jabari and the moderate faction of Hamas entered into back channel negotiations, brokered by the Egyptians, and were about to go public with a peace proposal. That’s when the Israelis took him out.

Netanyahu merged his Likud party with the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, a nationalist grouping catering to Russian immigrants which advocates the forced deportation of Arabs and a foreign policy aimed at achieving a “Greater Israel.”

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At the most basic level, Israel’s actions in Gaza are inextricably bound up with its efforts to create a Greater Israel that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the endless palaver about a two-state solution, the Palestinians are not going to get their own state, not least because the Netanyahu government is firmly opposed to it. The prime minister and his political allies are deeply committed to making the Occupied Territories a permanent part of Israel. To pull this off, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be forced to live in impoverished enclaves similar to the Bantustans in white-ruled South Africa. Israeli Jews understand this quite well: a recent survey found that 58 per cent of them believe Israel already practices apartheid against the Palestinians.”

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What enables this perpetual warfare is unconditional US support for Israel, both materially and diplomatically. The Jewish state could not exist beyond the next decade without the billions of US taxpayer dollars we ship to Tel Aviv every year. Israel is the single largest recipient of US “foreign aid”: we pay $3.5 billion in tribute to the warlords of Tel Aviv on an annual basis — not counting all the interest-free and forgiven “loans.” In return, they brazenly interfere in our politics — and that may be the least offensive form of Israeli intervention on American soil.