As secret as it is doesn’t help. The US Drug War in Laos. But what one can not fathom is what profit is there in it for the US?

Why would the US push a policy on Laos, to eradicate opium, which it doesn’t grow much of, and most of it is for local consumption?

The known result of these US Drug Wars is lots of hardship for the poorest of the poor. US militarization of Laos would take a long time, so a few DEA/NAS rambo types want to run around?

Still doesn’t figure.
Militarization of north Laos, push and expand where you can? Who knows.

But the Drug War IS having a radical destructive effect on the Akha and others. Humanitarian workers and organizations attest to this. Reports by Littleton, Baird, Shoemaker, Alton, ACF.

There are numerous articles and reports on it throughout the internet which can be found with a google search, or on the website, referred to in some fashion.

Thousands of Akhas have been forced to relocate to low land disease areas, hundreds if not more have died and continue to die. Most don’t have enough land to farm and sure not enough food. But they can’t grow opium, that was the priority. That part is done. The mess that was created is also done. Many Akha have to go back to the mountain tops to try and grow rice, or struggle to get by on the margins they now have.


Here is a story by TOM FAWTHROP predicting what has happened now.


Overall opium success is a pipedream

Clearing Laos’ hills of poppies has created major social and health problems for traditional farmers


The Lao government’s headlong rush towards its 2005 deadline for total opium eradication is hailed by drug control agencies as a remarkable success. But many Lao people have little cause to celebrate.

International NGOs and development specialists have issued warnings about the looming humanitarian disaster inflicted on hilltribes people, cajoled and coerced to abandon their traditional opium livelihoods without any alternatives in place.

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The cold statistics of the Laos Opium Survey 2004 and the triumphalist comments of Antonio Maria Costa, director of the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime, or Undoc, about the end of opium in the Golden Triangle, ignores the human costs and suffering for the Hmong, Akha and other hilltribes ravaged by disease in resettlement zones.

More than 30,000 Hmong, Akha and other tribes have been uprooted from their traditional homes and mountain habitats and resettled in the valleys. Undoc admits that crop substitution, international aid projects and government aid cover only a few areas.

Some Western diplomats have been shocked to learn the costs of the donor-driven policy of total opium eradication by the year 2005 without the necessary alternative amenities in place.

According to one NGO survey of resettlement areas, people from all age groups are dying of malaria and dysentery. Mortality rates from diseases triggered by poor sanitation and lack of medicines soared to 4% on average where the national average is 1.2%. An NGO survey showed that is about twice the mortality rate of hilltribe farmers in their former mountain habitat, with no access to the supposed benefits of development promised by the government in its resettlement programme.

These appalling findings have been confirmed by a separate United Nations Development Programme report by development consultant Dr Charles Alton. He observed that hilltribe people moving to new villages ”not only lack sufficient rice, but they faced fresh diseases _ malaria, gastro-intestinal problems, and parasites” that were seldom experienced up in the mountains.

Some of the embassies that have endorsed the Undoc and US (Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA) narcotics programmes to wipe out all opium cultivation are now beginning to entertain serious doubts.

”There is mounting evidence that large numbers of hilltribes people have died as a result of being moved down to the valleys,” said one senior Australian diplomat formerly based in Vientiane. ”There has been a lack of preparation.”

If the government insists on total opium elimination by 2005, another Western diplomat in Vientiane concluded, ”such a deadline can only be met by more and more draconian measures” which could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe.

Hmong and Akha people are dying like flies _ not because of any insurgency or displacement caused by a shooting war _ but rather because of an overzealous implementation of global anti-narcotics war. Can anyone with a conscience seriously claim that with so many casualties in the drug war that Laos represents a ”success story”?

Mr Costa is not unaware of the growing humanitarian problem. In his July report on Laos, the Undoc director admitted: ”We have the collective responsibility to ensure that the poorest of the poor are not the ones who pay the price for successes in drug control”, urging donor nations to ”extend a compassionate hand to destitute farmers”.

Some observer think this sentiment is a bit late. A number of Laos-based development specialists who prefer to remain anonymous argue that Undoc has put the cart before the horse, and that development must come before, not after, the cutting back on opium cultivation. Perhaps the UN drug control agency should have checked first into the number of alternative crop projects in place before convincing the Laos government to destroy the only livelihood the hilltribes had, and in many cases their major source of medicine.

Up to the late 1990s, the Laos government, mindful that more than 40% of its population were hilltribes and that opium was an important cash crop and medicine, displayed a sensible reluctance to ban opium poppy cultivation until the international community could guarantee alternative crops and livelihoods were in place. However, Pino Arlacchi, former director of Undoc, and the US DEA pushed zealously for UN member states to accept deadlines adopted in 1998 for ridding the world of narcotics supplies..Laos was pressed to fall into line and drop all its caveats with clearly disastrous results.

But some opium-growing nations are exempt from narcotics repression. Australia, France, India, Spain and Turkey are all members of a licit opium growing club of nations based on pharmaceutical demand. A number of Lao government officials have queried why no consideration has ever been given to providing their poor poppy farmers with the same deal as Tasmanian farmers in Australia.

A Vientiane-based international consultant thought it ridiculous that Tasmanians should benefit from growing opium while Laos was penalised. ”Why has no one carried out a feasibility study on the legalisation of opium for pharmaceutical purposes in Laos?” he asked.

Given that Laos’ contribution to the international heroin market has never been more than marginal, and narcotics agencies accept that around 40% of production is consumed domestically, what is left of current opium output could readily be absorbed by the pharmaceutical demand for pain-killing drugs provide by opiates.

A Western diplomat formerly based in Vientiane conceded that the real obstacle to accepting an alternative approach to the opium crop is all tied up with the psychology generated by the global war on drugs.

According to her assessment: ”Anyone who advocates a new field of legalisation, even if it is for medicinal purposes, there is a strong mindset against it. This is an issue which brings a lot of emotional baggage with it.”

Tom Fawthrop has reported from this region for British and regional media for more than 20 years, and is the co-author of ”Getting Away With Genocide?” (Khmer Rouge Tribunal) to be published in October.


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