Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burma/Myanmar: The Balkans' and Central Asia's Future (Part 1)

For anyone who has been reading my posts on the Balkans and now Central Asia, the events in Burma/Myanmar are a look into the future of those regions.

Within a few years of seizing power in 1988, Burma's new rulers had already placed their country on a course to be a failed state, essentially owned by special interests, whether legal or not. Here are the first several paragraphs, with my comments, from a 1991 article by Michael Richardson in the International Herald Tribune entitled Burma's Junta Hinders U.S.Battle Against Asian Heroin:

The United States is a major target for syndicates that smuggle heroin from Asia. After a recent tour of the region, Melvyn Levitsky, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics matters, discussed the trafficking problem with Michael Richardson of the International Herald Tribune.

Q. Is the flow of heroin from Southeast Asia to the U.S., Europe and other Western nations getting out of hand?

A. No. But there has been a rather startling increase in the amount of Asian heroin entering the U.S. and that causes us a great deal of concern. Four or five years ago, about 15 percent of the heroin that came to the U.S. was from Southeast Asia. Today, the proportion is well over 50 percent, and may be verging on 60 percent.

Q. Have Asian trafficking syndicates taken over from the Mafia in handling the heroin trade in the U.S.?

A. They have not taken over but they have become a much more important part of the trade, particularly Chinese gangs on the East Coast and increasingly on the West Coast. The Asian connections to ethnic Chinese groups in the U.S. are quite clear.

The connection to Chinese groups is much more important for China than it is for the US -- more to follow on that.

Q. Most of the Southeast Asian heroin reaching the U.S. comes from Burma. Yet the U.S. halted its narcotics suppression program with Burma in 1988 in protest at repression of the democracy movement by the Burmese military. Isn't U.S. retaliation, in effect, increasing the outflow of heroin?

A. I would point out that when the military in Burma seized power and cracked down on the students, they also dropped their drug control efforts to concentrate on restoring order through repressive measures. So it was not U.S. action that led to the halt in Burmese narcotics control. In fact for a while, we kept our program for Burma in neutral gear, waiting to see what would happen. Only when it became clear that the Burmese military had no interest in controlling the flow of drugs did we cut off our assistance program.

In the last three years or so, annual production of opium in Burma has about doubled to more than 2,000 metric tons, and perhaps to as much as 2,500 tons. That is enough to produce between 200 and 250 tons of heroin. Not all of this opium is necessarily turned into heroin. But it is an incredibly large amount that is available for international markets.

The net result of the coup was a rapid increase in heroin production.

Does this remind us of any place farther north and west in Asia?

Some of the increase in opium production in Burma is from areas that are not controlled by the central government, particularly border regions near Thailand and China. But much of the increase has come from areas that are under government control.

"But much of the increase has come from areas that are under government control."

What we have also seen is that ethnic minority groups that the Burmese authorities favor are apparently allowed to go about their narcotics business unhindered. The Burmese authorities are using one ethnic minority group against another in trying to gain control of areas they don't now control.

The "government" was just one narcotics-trafficking mafia among several in Burma -- it was merely the one with the most power, and some degree of international legitimacy due to that power.

Q. Is there evidence that the Burmese military profits from the trade in opium and heroin?

A. Certainly some elements of the military have profited and so have some other Burmese officials. But I cannot say that it is the policy of the Burmese government that the army skim off drug profits as a way of supporting itself. There are instances, obviously, of corruption. However, at least a certain amount of the trafficking is officially condoned and may even be encouraged.

Of course they are not going to pass a public declaration stating that opiate production and export is official policy of the military junta, and, short of that, how much more obvious can they be?

By 2000, Burma/Myanmar had become a big exporter of methamphetamines. In another article from International Herald Tribune entitled Burma's New Export / Methamphetamine Menace: Pills Follow a Path Into Thailand Blazed by Heroin, Richardson was documenting the change. Here are the first few paragraphs, with my comments:

BANGKOK: When the Thai police arrested a housewife the other day for selling banned methamphetamine stimulant pills outside a provincial hospital not far from Bangkok, they made further inquiries.

The police found that the woman, who they said had 110,000 methamphetamine tablets in her possession, was married to Prayut Sanan, an executioner in the Bang Kwang maximum security prison, where 130 convicts are on death row awaiting execution by shooting for various crimes including drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and murder.

This woman, a significant narcotrafficker, was married to a guy whose job was to execute narcotraffickers and other criminals. Hypocrisy? Conflict of interest? I wonder if that made for any marital unrest between the two.

The police said that a search of Mr. Prayut's Bangkok home, and his car in the prison parking lot, yielded another 700,000 tablets, four pistols and an assault rifle.

Pornsak Durongkhaviboon, chief of the national police, said that the arrest of Mr. Prayut and several alleged accomplices, including a Bang Kwang warder and a former policeman, confirmed reports that the drug trade in Thailand was flourishing even inside prisons.

At about the same time as these arrests were made late last week, the police separately raided a Bangkok warehouse and seized 7 million methamphetamine pills hidden in sacks of garlic and shallots.

Seven million pills!

Thai and foreign officials say that both incidents are signs of a rapid increase in the past few years in the illegal sale and use of strong amphetamine-type stimulants, or ATS, in Thailand, as increased unemployment and social tension arising from the East Asian economic crisis and the swelling migration of poor rural workers to the cities in search of jobs and a better life has coincided with a major change in drug smuggling from Burma.

Long notorious for production of opium and its highly addictive derivative, heroin, several drug-trafficking organizations in Burma — each with its own territory and army — have switched to the manufacture of methamphetamine because it is easier to produce and conceal in tablet form than heroin and just as profitable, narcotics officials and analysts say.

This is just like Afghanistan in the 1990's, and this is how the Balkans have been developing, and this is the path Central Asia is on. The governments are effectively being replaced by organized crime. We are seeing this process in different stages in these different places.

The Turkish Deep State represents yet another stage, where one criminal group has achieved dominance, and essentially controls the entire nation, including its armed forces: it controls late model combat aircraft, and uses national resources to infiltrate foreign nations to traffic narcotics and conduct espionage; drugs are trafficked in Turkish military helicopters, and distributed in Western Europe by military officers who hold diplomatic passports.

"The pills are small and easy to hide," said Sandro Calvani, the representative in Thailand of the United Nations International Drug Control Program. "They are very user-friendly for traffickers."

Police estimate that about 600 million methamphetamine tablets were smuggled into Thailand in 1999 across the 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) border with Burma. Much of the frontier is mountainous, heavily forested and difficult to patrol.

Six hundred million! This just gets better and better.

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai of Thailand told a recent international conference on drug control in Bangkok that the spread of amphetamine-type stimulants in Thailand was happening at such an "alarming" rate that it was a threat not only to the country's social fabric and economic growth but also to its political stability and security.

Now, even neighboring Thailand was being threatened. We can't call it the Domino Theory, because this is practice, not theory!

"This menace is further complicated by the huge profit the trade generates, leading to a host of other problems, from corruption to money laundering, and transnational organized crime to international terrorism," he added.

Not "further complicated" -- the huge profit is at the very heart of the matter.

Officials representing Burma, which has an uneasy relationship with Thailand, said at the same conference that the military government in Rangoon was doing its best to suppress drug production in border regions.

The main methamphetamine manufacturer in Burma is the self-styled United Wa State Army, which can call on about 15,000 well-armed soldiers to protect its jungle-based drug producing facilities and smuggling routes, Thai and foreign officials said.

Blame the competition!

Like several other similar armed groups based on ethnic minorities that claim autonomy or independence from Rangoon, this group operates in Burma's remote and rugged eastern Shan state bordering Thailand, China and Laos.

"Although the UWSA remains heavily involved in the heroin trade, it is also Asia's principal methamphetamine producer," said Thomas Wersto, a narcotics analyst in the U.S. State Department in Washington. "The UWSA is largely responsible for helping to fuel abuse of that drug in neighboring Thailand. Moreover, UWSA methamphetamine increasingly is appearing in other parts of Asia."

Rival drug cartels, each with its own army, fight it out to control the drug trade in Southeast Asia -- again, the names and places have been changed, but is this not reminiscient of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Turkey and the Balkans?

Again, I emphasize that this is what Sibel Edmonds caught a glimpse of at the FBI -- the influence of such narcotrafficking nations on US politics, US foreign policy, and US law enforcement.


WomanHonorThyself said...

phenomenal research as always...ah the war on drugs..what a sham!

USpace said...

Great stuff YD! I'm linking this to my Burma/Myanmar post...

absurd thought -
God of the Universe wants
complete narco states

criminals in power
loving the corrupt drug war

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
outlaw all alcohol

make cigarettes illegal
organized crime takes over

Yankee Doodle said...

Interesting, Angel.

Many people in our law enforcement, judicial and military communities risk their lives to stop drugs from destroying not just our society, but societies of other countries, as well.

But, their work is undercut, diverted and derailed by corrupt elements.

The result is that the "War on Drugs" -- which, under the Bush Administration, has very much taken a back seat to the "War on Terror" -- too often becomes a war on the competition's drugs.

Fighting a "War on Terror" without fighting a simultaneous "War on Drugs" is exactly why this "War on Terror" will last a long time, and will not be victorious.

Terrorism is no longer a tool of superpowers run via roque proxies; it is now an integral component of the underworld.

We need a President who has the wisdom and integrity to battle crime in all its forms, and enforce the laws of the land, as the Constitution says the President should. Bush, like Clinton, spends too much time trying to find a way to get around the laws. And another Clinton in the White House would certainly not help matters.

Thanks, U. I meant to link to your post.