Pubdate: Thu, 02 Aug 2012
Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Star
Author: Rakan al-Fakih


ZOUEITENIYE, Lebanon: Located 5 kilometers west of Hermel in 
northeastern Lebanon, Zoueiteniye is now almost a ghost town as for 
years its residents have migrated to Beirut and its suburbs.

Many of the town's stone houses are partially destroyed and just 10
remain occupied today. Most of Zoueiteniye's original 500 residents
have moved to the city as a result of the government's neglect of the
village and failure to ensure the most basic living standards.

One of the remaining residents, who asked to be identified by his
initials M.F., works in agriculture and has five dunums (5,000 square
meters) of cannabis fields.

He says cannabis cultivation provides his only source of income for
his family, despite the fact that growing the drug contradicts his
Muslim faith.

He adds that he faces only two options: He can either continue
planting cannabis, which can earn $5,000 per month for his family, or
make only $1,000 monthly from cultivating other crops. The resident
says that the latter option would result in his children having to
drop out of school.

F.S., a 50-year-old man who still resides in the village and also
asked to be identified by just his initials, also grows and sells
cannabis. He is wanted by the Lebanese judiciary for planting and
dealing with the drug.

F.S. holds a degree in law from a private Lebanese university. He
worked in many jobs in Beirut and its suburbs before returning to the
village. He has been a longtime political activist and a member of one
of the leftist parties.

When a drug dealer F.S. knew was arrested, his name also was listed as
one of the dealers in the country.

"This is when I left political activism and became someone wanted by
the judiciary," the 50-year-old says.

F.S. refuses to surrender himself to the police.

Ali Jaffar, the deputy head of the municipality of Jouret al-Hashish
in Hermel, says the practice of cannabis plantation in the area goes
back 80 years. He says that successive Lebanese governments,
regardless of their political affiliations, have destroyed the crop
each year. Sometimes they have given subsidies to the affected
farmers, he adds.

Jaffar says that the continuation of this confrontation between
farmers and the government indicates that cannabis is the only plant
that ensures a respectable income for its cultivators.

He blames the government for not having agricultural and developmental
policies that could substitute cannabis plantation. He says that while
in Europe cannabis is being sold in pharmacies, in Lebanon it is
destroyed and its economic benefits are completely neglected by the

A local official in Hermel, Moufleh Allaw, asks why the government has
not agreed to a proposal from Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid
Jumblatt, who has called on the government to legalize and purchase
the drug.

Jumblatt has also called for the use of the drug in the manufacture of

Allaw says he is surprised that the government has neither agreed with
Jumblatt nor come up a viable alternative to the crop.

The official says the government policy of eradicating the fields will
not put a limit on the drug's plantation, adding that the farmers are
the only ones suffering losses.

The yearly eradication by the Central Drug Control Office has led to
corruption within different departments of the government. Allaw
believes that a lot of money is being stolen by security officials and
politicians in the implementation of this yearly crackdown.

He also warned against the government's neglect and the continuation
of the crackdown, saying that farmers and influential families in the
area will not allow their crops to be eradicated, adding that the
recent targeting of bulldozer owners and the police was evidence of

But a security source told The Daily Star that such warnings will not
stop them from continuing with the crackdown, saying that some 6,000
dunums of cannabis have already been eradicated this month out of
30,000 dunums in total in the area. The source said it would take the
campaign it started last week and will within a month and a half
destroy all the fields.
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