By Federico Varese
The opinions expressed are his own.
Hillary Clinton had many “hard issues” to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.
Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes a democratic country?
The totalitarian regime which has ruled Burma since 1962 has been, to a point, successful in keeping the production of illicit substances under control. In 1999, Burma’s notorious military junta (which is now dissolved) started a ruthless elimination plan of opium in the Golden Triangle (the Shan State, the Wa Region and the Kachin State). The region produced one-third of the world’s opium in 1998, but that figure was down to about 5% nine years later. From 2006 to 2007, the army eradicated 8,895 acres of opium fields. A 2007 United Nations Report trumpeted that “a decade-long process of drug control is clearly paying off.”
The actual story is a little more complicated. The regime did manage to reduce opium production, but this policy led to an increase in the production of amphetamines, methamphetamine in particular. The U.N. estimated that at least 700 million tablets were shipped from Burma to Thailand in 2003 alone, which is about 20 tons of methamphetamine, or 7.5% of what is manufactured globally.
Most recently, opium production in Burma is on the rise again, pushed by an ever-increasing demand for heroin in China, as documented by an eye-opening report compiled by the Transnational Institute, an NGO based in Amsterdam.