Pubdate: Wed, 27 Nov 2013
Source: Kuwait Times (Kuwait)
Copyright: 2013 Kuwait Times Newspaper


BEKAA - Lebanese marijuana grower Abu Sami is practically rubbing his 
hands together with glee: the Syrian conflict has paralyzed 
authorities at home and left the nearby border virtually 
uncontrolled. "This year, the harvest was abundant, and the 
authorities have left us alone because they are otherwise occupied," 
he said in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa region.

In the past, the Lebanese army would descend annually to destroy some 
of the illicit crop, but this year the harvest has gone untouched. 
The area shares a long, porous border with Syria and is a stronghold 
of the Shiite Lebanese movement Hezbollah, which is fighting 
alongside the Syrian regime against a 32-month-old uprising.

After the harvest in Abu Sami's bucolic village, at the foot of an 
arid mountain, marijuana is brought to buildings where it is dried 
and processed into hashish.

All along the winding roads of the Shiite hamlet, men and women work 
on the crop behind half-closed curtains, and defend the industry as 
their only source of employment. During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil 
war, Lebanese hashish, which is known for its quality, fed a 
flourishing industry that generated hundreds of millions of dollars a 
year in income.

Hashish is a cannabis product derived from the resin of the plant, 
and produced in large quantities in the Bekaa. Under pressure from 
the United States, Lebanon has launched eradication campaigns, and in 
past years, the army bulldozed thousands of hectares of cannabis. 
Farmers have often taken up arms to defend their crop-growers fired a 
rocket at an eradication team in 2012 - and call for the legalization 
of what they say is part of their ancestral culture.

But this year, there's been no sign of the army. "The state is 
immersed in problems related to Syria and doesn't want to open a new 
front. Otherwise they would have come down hard on us," says Afif, a 
villager. Government officials admit as much. "There was no 
destruction of growing this year... The Syrian crisis played a major 
role in that," Joseph Skaff, chief of Lebanon's office for countering 
drugs, money laundering and terrorism said. For Abu Sami, Afif and 
others working in the industry, Lebanon's instability and the war 
raging in Syria are blessings in disguise.

In a bid to stem the flow of fighters and weapons from Lebanon, Syria 
has replaced its border guards with army troops who are too busy 
fighting to patrol.

And routes back and forth across the border to Syria have increased 
as refugees and rebels chart new paths."Nowadays, anything goes 
because it's chaos on the Syrian side," says Abu Sami. "Where there 
is war, drugs follow," he adds, contemplating a mound of sifted 
golden brown cannabis grains on the floor of a shed. A few meters 
away, the leftover stems are burnt to remove any trace of the activity.

The farmers say local and foreign demand for their crop is up more 
than 50 percent in the last year, with "the majority of the 
merchandise being sold in Syria," which has become a crossroads for 
drugs destined for Europe and elsewhere.

According to Abu Ali, a local resident, traffickers from Syria buy 30 
to 100 kilograms to take on to neighboring countries. "From Turkey, 
they sell to European traffickers, and from Iraq and Jordan, they 
sell it to the Gulf countries," he says. "Even though it's risky, 40 
grams that would sell for $20 in Lebanon will be sold for $100 in 
Syria and for $500 when it arrives in Turkey. -AFP
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom