Daily Archives: 21 January 2007

How to End Another (Anti-)Opium War

I’ve been too busy with other projects lately to follow up on some news reports that relate to my recent excerpts from Rory Stewart’s travels in Afghanistan, in particular Anne Applebaum’s column last Tuesday advocating control rather than eradication of opium, the country’s largest cash crop by far.

Of course it isn’t fashionable right now to argue for any legal form of opiate cultivation. But look at the evidence. At the moment, Afghanistan’s opium exports account for somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product, depending on whose statistics you believe. The biggest producers are in the southern provinces where the Taliban is at its strongest, and no wonder: Every time a poppy field is destroyed, a poor person becomes poorer — and more likely to support the Taliban against the Western forces who wrecked his crops. Yet little changes: The amount of land dedicated to poppy production grew last year by more than 60 percent, as The Post reported last month….

Yet by far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is that it exists at all — because it doesn’t have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country’s political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could “bring down the government.” Just like Afghanistan, Turkey — this was the era of “Midnight Express“– was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974 the Turks, with American and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn’t necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report– which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn’t mention Turkey — but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as “narcotic raw materials” from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.

Why not add Afghanistan to this list?

Registan contributor Joshua Foust notes an ominous sign that the U.S. seems to be taking the opposite approach.

President Bush has named William Wood as the new ambassador to Afghanistan…. Wood hails from Colombia, which makes sense. The theory must be that he has experience running an anti-narcotics effort. Of course, the anti-cocaine effort in Columbia is an abysmal failure, and repeating the same tactics in the anti-opium effort in Afghanistan look set to make the security problems—to say nothing of the drug problem—far, far worse.

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Filed under Afghanistan, drugs, Turkey, U.S.

Another Profile of Japan’s Brazilian Workers

Associated Press reporter Joseph Coleman recently talked to a few people in Oizumi, home of Japan’s largest Braziltown, in international Ota City in Gunma Prefecture just north of Tokyo, and just across the river from the recent Outlier haunt of Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture. It’s no surprise that the children of the immigrant workers seem to be having trouble fitting into either culture.

A labor shortage during the economic boom of the late 1980s produced a change in visa laws to let in descendants of Japanese emigrants. But if officials figured the immigrants would blend easily back into Japanese society, they were disappointed.

Today, Japan’s 302,000 Brazilians are its third-largest foreign minority after Koreans and Chinese. Watanabe and the other foreigners of Oizumi are the human legacy of that policy.

Instead of a chain of schools to absorb the newcomers into Japan, the reverse seems to be happening.

In 1999 the Brazilian education company Pitagoras opened a school in Ota, a town neighboring Oizumi, to improve the foreign children’s Portuguese and prepare them for a possible return to Brazil. Japan now has six Pitagoras outlets.

Maria Lucia Graciano Franca, a teacher at the Ota school, said many of the workers’ children speak neither Portuguese nor Japanese well and have trouble fully adjusting to life in Brazil or Japan.

“They go back to Brazil, they stay for a while, and they come back here,” she said as children practiced dance moves for a school concert. “And the ones who stay in Japan follow the same route as their parents – they work in the factories.”

The grown-ups are torn too.

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Filed under Brazil, Japan, labor