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DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Bolivian President, Casualty in US Drug War

This week, Bolivia's president may have been toppled due to citizen anger over US narco-imperialism; the Dutch government considers limiting marijuana coffeeshop sales to Dutch citizens only; and Forbes magazine estimates the value of Canada's marijuana production exceeds the revenues for cattle, wheat or logging.
 
 
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This week, Bolivia's president may have been toppled due to citizen anger over US narco-imperialism; the Dutch government considers limiting marijuana coffeeshop sales to Dutch citizens only; and Forbes magazine estimates the value of Canada's marijuana production exceeds the revenues for cattle, wheat or logging.

October 23 -- The Watertown Daily Times reports: On a visit to the White House last year, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada told President Bush that he would push ahead with a plan to eradicate coca but that he needed more money to ease the impact on farmers.

Otherwise, the Bolivian president's advisers recalled him as saying, "I may be back here in a year, this time seeking political asylum." Mr. Bush was amused, Bolivian officials recounted, told his visitor that all heads of state had tough problems and wished him good luck.

Now Mr. Sanchez de Lozada, Washington's most stalwart ally in South America, is living in exile in the United States after being toppled last week by a popular uprising, a potentially crippling blow to Washington's anti-drug policy in the Andean region.

United States officials interviewed here minimized the importance of the drug issue in Mr. Sanchez de Lozada's downfall, blaming a "pent-up frustration" over issues ranging from natural gas exports to corruption.

But to many Bolivians and analysts, the coca problem is intimately tied to the broader issues of impoverishment and disenfranchisement that have stoked explosive resentments here and fueled a month of often violent protests.

"The U.S. insistence on coca eradication was at the core of Sanchez de Lozada's problem," said Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian scholar who is director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in Miami.

Dr. Gamarra and others point to events in Bolivia as a warning that United States drug policy may sow still wider instability in the region, where anti-American sentiment is building with the failure of economic reforms that Washington has helped encourage here.

In Bolivia the backlash has strengthened the hand of the political figure regarded by Washington as its main enemy: Evo Morales, head of the coca growers' federation, who finished second in presidential election last year.

"To the extent that the U.S. pushes on eradication targets without any kind of flexibility, it makes people there much more amenable to turning to violent protest or insurgent groups," said Michael Shifter, who follows the Andean region for the Washington-based policy group Inter-American Dialogue.

October 25 -- The UK Times reports: Thousands of Britons who flock to the cannabis cafes of Amsterdam each year may be left stone cold by Dutch government plans to end "drug tourism". The Netherlands' conservative Government has just unveiled a scheme to restrict access to the country's drug-selling coffee shops to Dutch residents only. Coffee shops would be restricted to members, with membership permits sold only to local people.

The Dutch city is renowned as the drugs capital of Europe, having become the destination of choice for revelers looking for the high life. Hundreds of coffee shops openly offer menus for different types of resin and grass. However, the Government is keen to clean up the country's image and has been under pressure from its more puritanical neighbors, particularly France and Germany, whose citizens flock across the Dutch border to buy cannabis.

"We are willing to do something about tourists and foreigners buying hashish in coffee shops. One option is having permits for customers, and then you don't give permits to foreigners," a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said.

The proposals have triggered vehement protests from the Dutch coffee shops, which are fully licensed by local authorities and pay millions of pounds in tax. "It's totally ridiculous. The minister is stupid. If this system comes in, all the tourists will buy from criminals in the street," Arjan Roskam, of the Union of Cannabis Retailers, said.

The plans, which are to be confirmed by Christmas, were put forward by Piet Hein Donner, the Justice Minister, during a visit to Germany, which has criticized the Netherlands for not doing enough in the war on drugs.

The proposals are aimed specifically at curbing cross-border drug trafficking. German dealers, for example, drive across the uncontrolled border, stock up at coffee shops and then return. About 60 per cent of sales at coffee shops near the German border are to Germans, while in Amsterdam in summer about 40 per cent of coffee shop trade is with tourists.

November 10 (post-dated release) Forbes Magazine reports: The estimated value of Canada's marijuana production -- up to $7 billion -- exceeds its farm receipts of both cattle ($5.63 billion) and wheat ($1.73 billion), or the $4.3 billion taken in by forestry and logging. Only oil and gas extraction, worth $15.8 billion, is worth more.

Canada's legal farm operators have net margins of 5.5 percent. An economist in Vancouver's Simon Fraser University figures pot growers have a 72 percent annual rate of return, after discounting for costs, labor, thefts and arrests.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.