ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2000
Drug traffickers in Burma, also known as Myanmar, take advantage of Hawaii's booming crystal-methamphetamine problem. Above, soldiers and villagers use sticks to chop down opium poppies while eradicating illegal poppy at Lwe San Sone range in Burma's Shan state, northeast of Yangon. CLICK FOR LARGE
Burma -- another Darfur?
The country tumbles into chaos while drug traffickers ship their wares to Hawaii, where crystal meth is highly profitable
IN A LITTLE-NOTICED State Department report in March, Burma was re-branded from the "Golden Triangle" to the "Ice Triangle." A nation of 42 million in Southeast Asia, Burma remains the second-largest opium poppy grower in the world after Afghanistan, but Burma and China are now "the world's top producers" of amphetamines, according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime. Burma produces more than a billion pills a year of methamphetamine alone -- aimed not just at neighbors Thailand, China, India and Cambodia, but the United States -- largely in and through Hawaii and California.
Drug-trafficking organizations based in Asia are in Hawaii's illegal drug market because the price of a pound of "ice" -- crystal methamphetamine -- retails for twice what it does on the U.S. mainland. According to the law enforcement officials, a pound of crystal meth retails in the western United States for $12,000 to $16,000. The same pound will fetch as much as $30,000 in Hawaii.
The Star-Bulletin, as far back as 2003, has run feature articles on the "Ice Storm" sweeping the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii started getting attached to ice in the 1980s, before the rest of the country, when the drug started streaming in from Asia. Hawaii has earned the title of "Ice Capital" of the nation.
The Drug Enforcement Administration recently confirmed (Drugs and Drug Abuse State Factsheet, updated June 2007) that "Crystal methamphetamine (ice) is the drug of choice in Hawaii." Last year more methamphetamine was seized in Hawaii than any other drug. Federal drug seizures in Hawaii in 2006 were: cocaine: 18.2 kgs., heroin: 0.3 kgs., marijuana: 13.1 kgs., hashish: 1.2 kgs and methamphetamine: 50.5 kgs. The DEA reported that in Hawaii, the majority of methamphetamine is converted into ice.
THE HUMAN toll is serious because, as DEA reported, ice "lands in local night clubs, street corners, hotel sites, public areas, raves and private residences. The widespread use of crystal methamphetamine in Hawaii has had a devastating impact on Hawaii's economy and family structure. ... The drug's presence has increased street violence and property crimes." According to the Hawaii state Department of Health, more than 3,600 individuals were admitted to treatment centers seeking help for methamphetamine in 2005; and only a small fraction of individuals come forward to seek treatment.
Burma, the center of the world's "Ice Triangle," has one of the most repressive governments in the world. This year, Burma was listed among the world's most failed states by the magazine Foreign Policy, right behind Sudan in human rights violations. In 1990, the ruling military junta arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the overwhelming parliamentary party winner, the National League for Democracy, with 82 percent of the seats. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and her colleagues have been in prison or under house arrest since that election.
Yet the foreign policy of this and previous administrations toward Burma is based on silence and complacency. From trade to troops to diplomacy, we have made it a point to do absolutely nothing other than occasional White House "white papers" and weak sanctions.
The Burmese people endure forced labor for army units, rape of women and girls, and military conscription of boys, now an estimated 70,000-plus. The authoritarian military government, the State Peace and Development Council, claims that its soldiers are volunteers and that the minimum requirement age is 18. However, according to Human Rights Watch, "the vast majority of new recruits" are "forcibly conscripted," with 35 percent to 45 percent ages 11-14.
TWO DECADES of brutal treatment by the Burmese military in Eastern Burma have caused more than 500,000 internally displaced and homeless civilians, whose villages have been destroyed; there are thousands more in areas where monitoring is impossible. An estimated 1.5 million Burmese are illegal escapees in neighboring Thailand, on top of the 150,000 in official camps. The SPDC blocks humanitarian aid to areas of ongoing conflict.
In just a two-year period in Darfur, 400,000 were killed and two million rendered homeless by violence that wiped out entire villages. The international community has awakened and demanded that the atrocities in Darfur stop. The U.S. Congress has used the strongest language possible to condemn the bloodshed in Darfur, describing it as genocide and holding the Sudanese government responsible. The presidential candidates are discussing no-fly zones and military action, both unilateral and international.
President Bush and Congress must speak and act against human rights violations and bloodletting in Burma before it becomes another Darfur. Burma's drugs exacerbate the situation even further -- it is clearly in U.S. national security interest to take action.
If the community of nations fails to act, Asia's and America's youth will pay the ultimate price.
Robert Weiner, president of a Washington think tank, is former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Policy. John Larmett, senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates, is a former foreign affairs assistant to Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.).