Sunday, September 25, 2016


ILLEGAL drug trafficking isn't just an ordinary street crime. It is huge. Picture this. The Medellin Cartel, at the height of Pablo Escobar's career, supplied an estimated 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States, turning over $21.9 billion a year in personal income. Escobar was the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated known net worth of $30 billion by the early 1990s, making him one of the richest men in the world at his prime.

          The cartel originally imported most coca from Bolivia and Peru, processing it into cocaine inside Colombia and then distributing it through most of the trafficking routes and distribution points in the US, including Florida, California and New York. The cocaine trade is assessed a valuation of $10 billion per year in US dollars. Colombia's share of coca production is estimated at 43 percent of global production. Between 1993 and 1999 Colombia became the main producer of coca in the world along with cocaine, and one of the major exporters of heroin. As of 2013, studies show that Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer—although there are reports that the country is again back as #1.

          Coca leaf is the raw meterial for the manufacture of the drug cocaine—in the same way that opium poppy is for heroin. And despite prohibition of such drugs, still these “cash crops” are a great value to pharmaceutical industry. Production of cocaine began to increase greatly in response to increased medical use in late 1880s, after the discovery of cocaine’s value in performing eye surgery in 1884. Meantime, traditional medical uses of coca are foremost as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. It also is used as an anesthetic and analgesic to alleviate the pain of headache, rheumatism, wounds and sores etc etcetera.
          Both raw material and finished-product drug command huge profit. So much so that even the CIA stuck its hands on it. In 1996, journalist Gary Webb published reports in the San Jose Mercury News, detailing how Contras, had been involved in distributing crack cocaine into Los Angeles whilst receiving money from the CIA. Contras used money from drug trafficking to buy weapons. The Contras is a label given to the various US-backed and funded right-wing rebel groups that were active from 1979 to the early 1990s in opposition to the left-wing, socialist Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government in Nicaragua.

          So illegal drugs are not just illegal drugs. Control of the raw materials remains a huge political issue as well. The Golden Triangle is is one of Asia's two main opium-producing areas. It is an area of around 367,000 sq miles that overlaps the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Along with Afghanistan, The Triangle has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia and of the world since the 1950s. Most of the world's heroin came from the Golden Triangle until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world's largest producer. Myanmar is the world's second largest producer of illicit opium, after Afghanistan and has been a significant cog in the transnational drug trade since World War II. It is estimated that in 2005 there wеrе 167 sq miles of opium cultivation in Myanmar.         
Meantime, Afghanistan's opium poppy production goes into more than 90 percent of heroin worldwide. Opium production in the country Afghanistan has been on the rise since US occupation started in 2001. More land is now used for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 92 percent of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about $4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers. In addition to opiates, Afghanistan is also the largest producer of cannabis (mostly as hashish) in the world.

DRUGS and WAR in the Philippines

EXTRA-judicial killings are almost a no-brainer in Drug Wars. Governments could haul off all suspected couriers and street peddlers and foot soldiers to court, appropriate millions for such a program, and still they haven't scratched the surface of it. Not until the big boss is wasted. It's either you launch that war or you don't. You stop it or you carry on. Once a Drug War is green-lighted, the killing machine is on. People will fall. That's how it goes, sadly. But the mayhem doesn't necessarily solely coming from the government. Reading Facebook posts, it seems many people believe the shots are all emanating from one gun. Killings of the lower-ranked sicarios and lieutenants are not a monopoly of government forces. I don't understand why some people blame the carnage, that now claims to about 3,000 kills in just a few months, solely on Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte—just because he adapted such a program as his campaign platform.

          Let's look at other Drug Wars somewhere. Sure to cross our mind is Colombia.
          Major reason why Colombian president Cesar Gaviria wasn't interested in cocaine king Pablo Escobar's surrender during the Medellin Cartel's onslaught in 80s to early-90s? Escobar had to be eliminated. That's the only way to stop the war. At the time of Escobar, the Medellín Cartel was responsible for the murders of hundreds of people, including government officials, politicians, law enforcement members, journalists, relatives of same, and innocent bystanders. The cartel even worked with guerrilla groups such as the M-19, to process and protect illegal drugs. When conflicts emerged between the Medellín Cartel and the guerrillas, the cartel also promoted the creation of paramilitary groups. This while Gaviria's Bloque de Búsqueda (Search Bloc) went on relentless pursuits of the Cartel's men. So people, innocents and those involved with drugs, fell just like that.
          Meantime, other killings were charged to the rival Cali Cartel, ran by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, Gilberto and Miguel. Some were also pointed to Los Pepes, a paramilitary group at war with Communist guerrillas. Most members of Los Pepes were previously persecuted by Escobar, many members were allegedly rival drug traffickers. Los Pepes were allegedly funded by the rival Cali Cartel and the CIA. Many from the police force and military organization are under the payroll of both cartels.

       It is no different in the Philippines. But it is a lot harder to bring down drug kingdoms in the Philippines due to the fact that the hierarchy/ies don't have a face or poster boy—like Escobar or the Cali guys. Although I strongly believe that most drugs in the Philippines come from The Golden Triangle drug realm (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand), some authorities connect it with some Mexican groups, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel, and a handful of Asian crime syndicates.
          Early last year, an alleged Sinaloa Cartel operative named Horacio Hernandez Herrera was arrested in Manila, and local authorities later confirmed that his organization has attempted to gain a foothold in the country's domestic meth trade. Shortly after Herrera was detained, police in the Philippines seized 84 kilograms of high-grade "shabu" crystal meth worth $9.4 million and arrested three suspects with alleged links to the Sinaloa Cartel. Chinese crime syndicates have long been key players in the Philippine drugs trade. Much of the meth in the Southeast Asian nation, says some reports, comes from Guangdong province in southern China, where syndicates exploit lax controls in the chemicals industry to procure ingredients needed to make the synthetic drug. Both these chemicals and the finished product are then smuggled across the Philippines’ porous borders and into market, where the shabu — as it is known locally — can go for less than $20 per gram. A cheaper merch is Ya ba, tablets containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. It costs $3 to $4 per pill.
          Shabu and Ya Ba could be credible alternatives to cocaine or meth. A decent-to-good-quality gram of coke at street price runs $60-$80, occasionally $90. In some areas, it could fetch slightly lower. On average, the price of crystal meth for a 1/4 of gram is $20; 1/2 of gram is $40 and 1 gram is $80. As in Colombia or South America, “drugs processing” are mostly done by people living below the poverty line. They also somehow protect their “underground” way of living. And they are also the first ones to fall when drug wars ensue. Bringing each and everyone of them (in case other forces haven't gotten to them yet) to court is possible but not really doable since this entails logistics and budget. It is gung ho.

       Drugs, as in heroin (Southeast Asia's main illicit export), are most frequently brought to the United States by couriers, typically Thai (in case of heroin) and US nationals, travelling on commercial airlines. California and Hawaii are the primary US entry points for Golden Triangle heroin, but small percentages of the drug are trafficked into New York City and Washington, D.C. While Southeast Asian groups have had success in trafficking heroin to the United States, they initially had difficulty arranging street level distribution. However, with the incarceration of Asian traffickers in American prisons during the 1970s, contacts between Asian and American prisoners developed. These contacts have allowed Southeast Asian traffickers access to gangs and organizations distributing heroin at the retail level. But that'd be another story.       
          Of course, when President Duterte told the world that he could plush out illegal drugs in the country for few months, he could be kidding or simply wanting some voter mileage. Recently, he told media that he needed six more months for his war on drugs, saying he realized how bad the country’s narcotics problem was only after taking office over two months ago. He will say that again. 

          Truth is, illegal drugs is a problem. A huge problem. Somehow it had to be contained. What's going on in the Philippines is sad though—all the killings. Yet I feel it will face its eventual stoppage soon. The country isn't Colombia or Myanmar where raw materials for illegal drugs emanate—so we don't really expect the world's powers to create such huge meddling as they did in South America during the Reagan/Bush I years. We just have to see it ends. Yet the truth remains, illegal drugs will always be there—ruining lives and families. I don't want to be personal about it on this little blog though. So I digress.