Feature Articles

February 5, 2001

Round Up The Usual Suspects

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

compiled by John William Tuohy

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Washington DC: President Bill Clinton sent the following statements to members of Congress this week; ( November 2, 2000 )

     "I have determined that the following are major illicit drug producing or major drug-transit countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

     In the early 1990s, Taiwan became a transit point for Asian drug trafficking organizations moving heroin to the Western Hemisphere.

     The largest U.S. heroin seizure on record is the nearly half-ton of heroin that U.S. authorities discovered in Hayward, California in 1991. The drugs, which originated in China, had transited Taiwan en route to the United States. Given Taiwan's role in that transshipment and evidence of Taiwan-related drug flows to the United States at that time, I added Taiwan to the Majors List in 1995.

     Taiwan's role as transit point for drugs destined for the United States, however, has changed radically in the past few years. More stringent law enforcement procedures, together with improved customs inspection and surveillance methods, have all but cut off serious flows of heroin from Taiwan to the United States. At the same time, the opening of major container ports in southern China has diminished Taiwan's importance for the drug trade.

     Since Taiwan was designated a major drug-transit country, there have been no seizures in the United States of heroin that transited Taiwan, nor have Taiwan authorities identified any important drug shipments destined for the United States. Therefore, I am removing Taiwan from the Majors List and downgrading it to a country of concern.

     In addition to Hong Kong and Taiwan, the following are countries or regions of concern:

     Belize. Belize was removed from the list of major drug-transit countries in 1999 because there was clear evidence that the drug trade was not currently using it as a transit point for drugs moving to the United States.

     Central America's position as a land bridge between South America and Mexico, together with its thousands of miles of coastline, several container-handling ports, the Pan-American Highway, and limited law enforcement capability make the entire region a natural conduit and transshipment area for illicit drugs bound for Mexico and the United States.

     Currently, only Guatemala and Panama have been designated major drug-transit countries, since there is clear evidence that drug trafficking organizations use their territory to move significant quantities of illegal drugs to the United States. The same is not yet true of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, or Nicaragua.

     While Iran was once a traditional opium-producing country, the Government of Iran appears to have been successful in eradicating significant illicit opium poppy cultivation. The latest U.S. survey of the country revealed no detectable poppy cultivation in the traditional growing areas. Although one cannot rule out some cultivation in remote parts of the country, it is unlikely that it would be sufficient to meet the threshold definition of a major illicit drug producing country under section 481(e)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act.

     Malaysia. Malaysia was removed from the Majors List two years ago because there was no evidence that drugs transiting the country were reaching the United States in significant quantities. That situation has not changed since that time.

     The Leeward and Windward Islands, together with Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, constitute a broad geographical area through which U.S.-bound drugs pass en route from Latin America. In the right circumstances, any country in the region could become a major drug-transit country. There is no evidence at this time, however, that any of these Eastern Caribbean nations is a major drug-transit country under the definition in section 481(e)(5) of the Foreign Assistance Act.

     I am concerned by the large volume of Southwest Asian heroin that moves through Turkey and neighboring countries to Western Europe along the Balkan Route. There is no clear evidence, however, that this heroin significantly affects the United States, as required for a country to be designated a major drug-transit country. In the event that it is determined that heroin transiting Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or other European countries on the Balkan Route significantly affects the United States, the relevant countries will be added to the Majors List.

     I removed Syria and Lebanon from the list of major illicit drug producers two years ago after we determined that there was no significant opium poppy cultivation in Lebanon's Biqa Valley. Recent surveys have confirmed that there has been no detectable replanting of opium poppy, and we have no evidence that drugs transiting these countries significantly affect the United States. We continue, however, to keep the area under observation.

     We have been unable to confirm reports that significant quantities of opium poppy may be under cultivation in North Korea or that heroin originating in the country may be entering the international drug trade. We continue, however, to monitor the situation. If there is evidence that there is indeed poppy cultivation of 1,000 hectares or more in North Korea or that North Korea is a transit point for drugs significantly affecting the United States, it will be added to the Majors List.

     Cuba's geographical position, straddling one of the principal Caribbean trafficking routes to the United States, makes it a logical candidate for consideration for the Majors List. While there have been some reports that trafficking syndicates use Cuban land territory for moving drugs, we have yet to receive any confirmation that this traffic carries significant quantities of cocaine or heroin to the United States. Moreover, in 2000, much of the suspect air traffic that previously crossed Cuban airspace has now shifted away to Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

     Central Asia. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are traditional opium poppy growing areas of the former Soviet Union. However, we have not found evidence of significant opium poppy cultivation. If ongoing analysis reveals cultivation of 1,000 hectares or more of poppy, the relevant countries will be added to the Majors List.

     Major Cannabis Producers. While Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, the Philippines, and South Africa are important cannabis producers, I have not included them on this list since in all cases the illicit cannabis is either consumed locally or exported to countries other than the United States. I have determined that such illicit cannabis production does not significantly affect the United States.

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