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The US Drug War and the Akha

The Thai American drug war of 2003 left thousands dead in Thailand, many of them hill tribe. The situation could have been much worse for the hill tribe had there been less vigilance and protest that hill tribe would be singled out.

In the downloads section you can look at a pdf journal of 2003 that give specifics of these cases.

A simple cause and effect situation has led to an enormous, complicated issue resulting in the intense abuse and discrimination that the Akha suffer today. A simplified account: the Akha are traditional opium cultivators. They have been smoking opium for years as a kind of mountain pharmeceutical, a pain reliever useful to a people who work laboriously with the land. When modernization and thus poverty struck, addiction and production rose for relief and profit. The Akha turned to drugs to survive. At times they were FORCED to turn to drug culitvation by corrupt law enforcement or others. As they were exploited, they despaired and learned to exploit. The Thai government, which if not directly caused these changes at least allowed it to happen, now punish the people as a whole for the ëmistakesí of a few. Thailand has a gleaming record of cooperation with international and national drug enforcement agencies, and continue to receive funding to squash drug production and trade. In other words, outside taxpayerís money, particularly that of the United States although through international organizations as well, are going directly to the Thai army, directly to the men who beat senseless or dead innocent people, the men who imprison Akha without cause. Is your country funding human rights violations in the name of the drug war?

One is hardly surprised that the Akha can't figure out what is expected of them. 
In nearly a hundred years, opium and heroin have been great western scandals imposed on the region of the Golden Triangle. 
Now in these later years, it is the western moralists who watch while unreal quantities of elicit drugs flow to the west, and at the same time a "Drug War" is prosecuted in the region. 

The Thais learned to dance to this music, and though the flow of drugs have not decreased, but rather increased exponentially, the use of the drug war has been most instrumental in bashing the hilltribe. 

The trademark of drugs is that they take precursor chemicals for refinement and production.  These and the finished product take transport and financial transactions which ultimately end up in banking related paperwork. Few people realize that annual financial transactions for heroin shipped to the west are in the billions of dollars.  This is not all cash that is moved in handbags. There is a paper trail. 

Yet few bankers are executed at their desks for failure to inspect money, and few transporters of chemicals have experienced the same fate.  But this treatment of the hilltribe is common.  Busts left up to poorly trained police and army end up in the death of suspected dealers without due process, and where the door is wide open to abuse. 

The issue of race is significant. 

In the good ole British days it was taken for granted that missionaries had a role in the opium trade as they were the only people who could tell outside traders what was giong on or organize it all. 

Though the total number of missionaries in the Golden Triangle region is limited, they now claim that there was no such opium connection and that there isn't now. 

Makes one wonder just where they get all the money, and what they are here for? 

Since compassion for the village and human rights conditions the Akha face sure isn't the reason. 

And if they don't know who is shipping out all the heroin today, then who would? 

The end result is that the Akha are blamed for the drug trade while they certainly are not doing the lion's share of it, and whoever is certainly is not being prosecuted at all. 

Khun Sa was blamed for the drug traffic, now that he is gone, Wei Hseuh Kang is blamed for it, funny that we never see a western face in the blame game? 

From "The Politics of Heroin In South East Asia" 1971 / 1991 Alfred McCoy
"Now they want to outlaw opium smoking. But if they outlaw opium, everyone in Vientiane will turn to heroin. Opium is not bad, but heroin is made with acid, which kills a man. In Thailand Marshal Sarit outlawed opium [1958-1959], and now everybody takes heroin in Thailand. Very bad.
In Hong Kong, Iran, and Thailand repressive antiopium campaigns have driven the population to heroin and magnified the seriousness of the drug problem in all three nations. Vientiane's brand of no. 3 heroin seems to be particularly high in acid content, and has already produced some horribly debilitated zombie-addicts. One Laotian heroin pusher thinks that Vientiane's brand of no. 3 can kill a healthy man in less than a year. It would indeed be ironic if America's antidrug campaign drove Laos's opium smokers to a heroin death while it left the manufacturers and international traffickers untouched. "
(this has been the exact effect among the Akha community and continues to be so in 2001. Doesn't look like the Americans learned anything good.)

Some Thoughts
Who started the opium trade?
Convenient amnesia, inconsistencies, and the dollars for militarization.
The joke about "poverty alleviation" - Follow the money!

A Contradiction?

How can the American Government be opposing drugs when the CIA is caught so many times so close to the fire?
The Akha hill tribe have been living in the heart of the golden triangle on either side of borders for over one hundred years.  They have seen the British insist on opium production, drug lords, and now the insistence that it stop by the Americans.  However the Akha can also remember loading more than bananas on the planes of Air America for which they built runways near their villages.
The criminalization of drugs makes the economics of supply and demand drive a lucrative drug trade in the region.  Heroin goes to the west and other destinations.  It all moves through the Akha back yard.  Raising opium for heroin production is hard work.  As well, much opiu is raised for medicine and smoking, certainly not all for heroin.  Whatever the case, even refining heroin requires laborers.  The Akha find themselves in these jobs for lack of better ones.  Not because they like to work hard for small coins.
Meanwhile, the need for drugs from their neighborhood bring with it arrests and imprisonment in a major hypocrisy imposed by the west.  This tears up the lives of the Akha families which live vastly below the poverty line.
However, it is blantantly obvious, that while the US and Thailand may be spending billions on a drug war they are spending nothing on food security, land rights or poverty reduction in the Akha villages.
It can also be said, that the Akha made billions in profits for the western traffickers in heroin, now used and abandoned, they are not needed.
For fantastic documentation on the regional drug war and the western duplicity in this war go to theDRUG WAR SITE:

Dan Russell's Drug War Site
An Absolute Must See

Akhas In Prison

For many reasons many Akha end up in the new prison in Chiangrai or other prisons throughout Thailand. Some of the people are very old when they are locked up.
Questions of arrest procedures, interrogation, trial and imprisonment without representation or appeal. 


Bangklang Prison
A volunteer has set up the noble Bangklang Prison site for prisoners in Bangkok's famous desperate prison.   See this site for how you can help those who need justice and those who need mercy.

One Life Susan:
Susan.  She has worked for 24 years at Bangkok's Bangklang prision to bring care to the forgotten.
You can make a difference in her delivery of humanitarian work, contact her, then help.
Sign up for her wonderful newsletter.
Proof that you can change the world, but it takes work.
One Life Susan

Kay Lee's Prison and Justice Activism

A great site, this site describing the drug war and all the people it victimizes.  A must see.
Why The Drug War?

Old News:

Cobra Gold  2001

Joint Thai - US military excercise in Chiangrai province border areas, the heartland of Akha villages.  These villages have few human rights and get just about zero aid, yet they are policed heavily.
Is this a wilderness ghetto?

Admiral Fargo's Connection to the Drug War? 

Since summer 2000 when Admiral Fargo promised the Thai Government logistic support in the drug war, we have seen an immediate escalation of hostilities along the border with Burma as well as a significant increase in the quantity and cost of military equipment, vehicles and personell in border areas.   All areas that the Akha live in.
The emphasis in this drug war is on enforcement with ZERO attention paid to the conditions of the villagers in these same border areas.  Name the village?  The equipment however is in the millions of dollars.  While we couldn't even get AM General to talk to us about a suitable military style Humvee for medical service to the Akha, the military ones with guns mounted are running everywhere.
Since we got the results of the Admiral's promises, with none of the benefits (like what the war tools manufacturers got) to the poor, we thought it might be real cool just to let everyone know who this Admiral Fargo is who promises war to a place he's never been to.
Cause we got the war.

For decades now the hilltribe of Thailand and Burma have been the slaves for the drug industry, hardly able to stay alive yet making billions of dollars for the drug barons and the military hardware makers who supply the toys to fight them.   Meanwhile the criminalization of drugs has become the justification for any kind of brutal treatment at either the hands of renegades or the police.  Tribes such as the Akha, Lahu, Lisaw and Hmong continue to experience high arrest rates and imprisonment with all the associated violence as the drugs and chemicals flow through their mountain neighborhoods.  Meanwhile government agencies such as Thai Forestry continue to take away their rice lands making the situation only worse.

Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation