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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 17

Tackling Narcotics in Myanmar, US Style

Monday 14 April 2008, by Benjamin Todd

Washington is currently focussing attention on the situation with regard to drug production in Myanmar. By this it is trying to meet several objectives: first, exaggerating the scale of Myanmarese “narco threat” and ignoring the steps taken by Yangon to counter the narcotics menace, the US is seeking to undermine the political regime in the country (for which purpose it is simultaneously levelling accusations of violation of human rights, lack of freedom, growth of corruption, uncontrolled migration—of course, these allegations are by and large correct but Washington has all these years done precious little to effectively fight and isolate the ruling military junta on these fronts through the UN forum, the contrast with its proactive role in Iraq with or without UN endorsement does not bear emphasis); secondly, under the pretext of the need to contain Myanmarese narco-traffic, the US is intensifying contacts with the law enforcement structures and intelligence services of Thailand to use its territory as a possible “base” to conduct special operations against Yangon; thirdly, the focus on the narco situation in Myanmar is allowing Washington to partially distract the international community’s attention from its own dismal record on this score, the obvious failures of the anti-narcotics “mission” of the US and NATO in Afghanistan (since the time the Taliban were driven out from Kabul in October 2001 the area under opium poppy cultivation in the country has increased from 8000 hectares to 193,000 hectares as at present).

THE negative consequences of the cooperation with Americans in combating the narcotics problem are so well known that they barely warrant repetition. In August 2005 the Venezuelan media reported on the aggravation of tensions in the relations between Caracas and Washington precisely in the sphere of fighting narcotics; at that time Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had disclosed that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which several years ago signed an agreement with Venezuela’s Anti-Narcotics Agency for jointly curbing the narco-traffic, carried out its operation without any control and in general its activities posed a “direct threat to the defence capability and security of the country (Venezuela)”.

In October 2006 Caracas informed that it had discontinued cooperation with the DEA as the latter’s main task was to discredit the political regime of Venezuela particularly by the deliberate “leakage” of materials through which the US wanted to lay the blame for the growing narcotics drug trade on the country’s political leadership and power structures. According to a statement of the Venezuelan leadership, the DEA representation (along with the CIA, FBI and other special services of the US) took a discreet part in the preparations for an aborted coup d’etat in the state in April 2002 and pursued active intelligence work in the country.

What is noteworthy is that even while cooperating in the anti-narcotics field with close partners at the inter-state level, the Americans prefer not to inform the leadership of the country concerned about the operations they conduct in this area. Thus at the beginning of this year the exposure of two secret operations of the DEA caused concern in the Netherlands, as these revelations showed that these operations had been conducted without notifying the local authorities and intelligence services beforehand: the first operation was reported after the DEA revealed in January the work of its two operatives in Amsterdam as a consequence of which it allegedly prevented the delivery of a large consignment of synthetic narcotics from the Netherlands to the US; the local intelligence services came to learn about the second operation after they discovered that the Americans had implanted an agent inside the circle of a narco-dealer functioning in the Netherlands—the Dutch authorities banned this operation before it could be carried out. On this particular (second) operation the Dutch Minister of Justice demanded an official explanation from the US, and several parties in parliament characterised this incident as a clear case of violation of the country’s (the Netherland’s) sovereignty.

In the light of these developments it is quite natural to expect Washington to use its “anti-narcotics cooperation” drive to influence the internal politics of both Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar. Moreover what cannot be ruled out is the US intelligence services carrying out their secret operations (including their designs against Myanmar) without informing the Thai political leadership. But in case of any failure of the operations, the Americans will place all the responsibility on the Thai authorities—a tactics they have adopted elsewhere in the past. Hence Bangkok will become a hostage to the American policy in the region. Furthermore if the situation aggravates, it will negatively impact on New Delhi’s plans to develop cooperation with Yangon (casting a blind eye to the pro-democracy movement in the country being led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) primarily in the sphere of extraction and supply of hydrocarbons to India.

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