sets sights

U.S. Sets Sights On North Korea’s Vast Opium Fields

U.S. eyes North Korea's vast opium fields

As the U.S. prepares for war with North Korea, politicians and the media have failed to tell the public about the vast opium fields in the country.

As Afghanistan’s drug trafficking business continues to soar following the illegal occupation by U.S. forces 16 year ago, the military industrial complex are now setting their sights on North Korea. reports:

“In its early stage, the Kim Jong-un regime declared a war against drugs, getting rid of poppy fields,” Kang Cheol-hwan, president of the defector organization, North Korea Strategy Center, told Yonhap News Agency last month. “But now they are cultivating them again.”

North Korea’s opium poppies remained at least somewhat secreted from its citizens under the rule of Kim Jong-il.

In an August 2011 interview with NPR, Ma Young Ae — a defector and former North Korean spy who lives in Virginia — explained she “worked for Kim Jong Il’s internal police force. Her job was was to track down drug smugglers. That sounds like pretty normal law enforcement, except for one difference. She was supposed to stop small-time Korean drug dealers in order to protect the biggest drug dealer in the country: the North Korean government.

“Ma told us the North Korean government produced opium on a large scale. But it hid its poppy fields from most of the population. Ma only saw the fields because she was an insider.

“After harvesting the fields, the government would put its empty factories to use. The government would turn on its production lines at night and process opium, Ma says. Then they would pack the product in plastic cubes the size of dictionaries and smuggle it out of the country through China.”

Kim Jong-il’s son and successor instead chose to fight the war on drugs — until the Chinese Commerce Ministry suspended imports of coal from February through the end of the year, in response to one of Pyongyang’s contentious ballistic missiles tests.

Faced with the rapid loss of hard currency and an uphill battle to fund the regime’s activities — coal comprised an estimated 40 percent of North Korea’s exports to China — Kim Jong-un appears to have cozied to the wallet-stuffing possibilities the prized poppy provides.

Noting the war on drugs had already failed, Kang added, “The North is cultivating poppy fields again for drug smuggling as a way to secure funds to manage its regime.”

Funding an entire government’s operations from the cultivation and production of opium should be a piece of cake — should illegal markets fail, America has an insidious obsession with opioids.

Tens of thousands each year die of overdoses from heroin, opioids, and/or their synthetics in the United States, alone — in large part, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry’s reckless devotion to painkillers.

Vox reported March 29 the opioid “epidemic has by and large been caused by the rise in opioid overdose deaths. First, opioid painkiller overdoses began to rise, as doctors began to fill out a record number of prescriptions for the drugs in an attempt to treat patients’ pain conditions. Then, people hooked on painkillers began to move over to heroin as they or their sources of drugs lost their prescriptions. And recently, more people have begun moving to fentanyl, an opioid that’s even more potent and cheaper than heroin. The result is a deadly epidemic that so far shows no signs of slowing down.”

And how could it slow down?

Opioids doled out like candy by doctors and hospitals to those suffering but unaware of the addiction pitfalls inherent in rising tolerance, short-term prescriptions, and — in particular — the availability of potent substances like heroin and fentanyl on the black market.

This isn’t by far purely an issue to be blamed on illegal trade in drugs. Media Roots’ Abby Martin elaborated on the perniciousness of the opioid crisis in 2014, stating,

“In today’s globalized world of rule-for-profit, one can’t discount the role that multinational corporations play in US foreign policy decisions either. Not only have oil companies and private military contractors made a killing off the occupation, big pharmaceutical companies, which collectively lobby over 250 million dollars annually to Congress, need opium latex to manufacture drugs for this pill happy nation. As far as the political elite funneling the tainted funds, the recent HSBC bank scandal exposed how trillions of dollars in black market sales are brazenly being laundered offshore.”

For the welcome relief opioid painkillers offer those who suffer severe discomfort, the medications’ highly-addictive nature leaves doctors reluctant to write strong prescriptions. However, if tolerance builds, and medical personnel refuse to increase dosage accordingly, those still facing unbearable pain often shop black markets — where the purity and safety of substances cannot be verified — to supplement their supplies.

It must be duly noted, America’s opioid epidemic mushroomed only after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan.

“Within six months of the U.S. invasion,” wrote Matthieu Aikins for the December 4, 2014, Rolling Stone, “the warlords we backed were running the opium trade, and the spring of 2002 saw a bumper harvest of 3,400 tons.”

Just prior to boots and bombs hitting the ground, opium production in Afghanistan fell to an impressive low of 185 pounds — all-too ironically, thanks to Taliban efforts to eradicate the entire supply of opium poppies.

Mint Press News’ Mnar Muhawesh wrote last year, “The War in Afghanistan saw the country’s practically dead opium industry expanded dramatically. By 2014, Afghanistan was producing twice as much opium as it did in 2000. By 2015, Afghanistan was the source of 90 percent of the world’s opium poppy.”

Claiming terrorism as the impetus for invading Afghanistan would be at least as absurd as the Drug Enforcement Agency claiming the global War on Drugs has been a success. Taliban forces have returned in strength to the nation whose opium poppies are guarded by U.S. troops — who are putatively present to fight in the ongoing War on Terror.

After a moment deeply pondering the last point, it’s imperative to address current events — specifically, U.S. military vessels already present in the South and East China Seas, amid dangerously high tensions with North Korea.

North Korea — who announced weeks ago its debilitated economy would seek relief from, yes, the cultivation and production of opium poppies.

Perpetually bellicose Pyongyang is no stranger to hyperbole in military prowess — so much so, threats of direct nuclear strikes by North Korea against the United States are typically downplayed by Washington, if not dismissed with a snide grin.

Pyongyang’s testing of ballistic and other missiles has been deemed a threat to the national security of South Korea, where a U.S. missile defense system pointed North has further heightened hostilities on the peninsula and in the region.

Of one such missile launch Sunday, Defense Secretary James Mattis admonished,

“The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile.”

Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, warned on Monday the U.S. has “created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any minute” — adding, Pyongyang “is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

Whether that war includes plans for the U.S. usurpation of North Korea’s literal cash crop of opium poppies will undoubtedly be determined soon.


Emboldened by Amona evacuation, Palestinian mayor sets sights on Ofra

SILWAD, West Bank — After witnessing a decade-long legal battle end in apparent victory, with the evacuation this week of the West Bank outpost Amona, the mayor of the adjacent Palestinian town has set his sights on a new target.

“We are now going to evacuate the settlers from Ofra,” said Abdul Rahman Saleh, the mayor of Silwad. “I am preparing to get all the documents to give the Israeli High Court,” he said, terming it a “very good court.”

But he’s likely to face a far stiffer, if not impossible, challenge with Ofra, northeast of Ramallah. “It will take time, but I will try,” he said, speaking to The Times of Israel in his office on Thursday.

Ofra, which overlooks Amona, is legal under Israeli law. However, even within settlements considered legal by Israel, ownership of plots of land allegedly built on private Palestinian property, if the land was not deemed a military zone by the Israel army, can be challenged in Israeli courts.

New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Ofra itself began on land confiscated by the IDF. But the settlement, founded in 1975 on the site of an old Jordanian army base, has expanded beyond the military zone and on to land claimed as private Palestinian property.

Gilad Grossman, the spokesperson for Yesh Din, the Israeli rights group that led the court battle for the Palestinian landowners of Amona, said he was not privy to the mayor’s plans to challenge land ownership in Ofra. But he claimed that “at least half” of the settlement, which is home to around 3,500 residents, is built on private Palestinian land.

A 2008 report by another Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, said some 60 percent of the built-up area of Ofra lies on land that is registered to Palestinians. The alleged private lands included in settlements like Ofra and Amona are found in the Jordanian land registry, which Israel adopted after it captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War.

Settlers cast doubt on the legitimacy of the registry, saying the land was haphazardly doled out by then Jordanian King Abdullah, who ruled the West Bank from 1948 to 1967.

There are already nine buildings in Ofra that are slated for demolition on February 8. Those homes, however, are connected to a petition filed by Yesh Din back in 2008, which the Supreme Court ruled on last February.

Grossman said that since that petition, no Palestinians have asked Yesh Din to represent them in court over lands in Ofra.

A portion of the security barrier under construction near Jerusalem (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

Saleh said that if Israel withdrew to behind its West Bank security barrier — where most of the settlements are — there could be peace.

“The land for these settlers is behind the wall,” he said. “I think all my people want to make peace with Israel. If they want to make one nation with Palestinians and Israelis, fine, I agree. But everything should be split fairly.”

A day earlier, he had sounded much more combative, telling the Palestinian Al Quds News Network that Amona residents “should return to Europe, where they originally come from.” The comments were widely reported in Israel, and drew condemnations from politicians.

But on Thursday, he expressed regret over how those remarks were construed in Israel.

Jewish men pray early in the morning on the hill overlooking Ofra in the Jewish outpost of Amona in the West Bank, on December 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90

Aharon Lipkin, a spokesperson for Ofra, said that while he didn’t know enough about Saleh’s plan to petition the court to provide a specific response, Ofra residents would welcome such a move because it would force Israel to change its attitude toward what it now calls “disputed” lands in the West Bank.

“To a certain degree it would be great if he did this,” Lipkin said.

Lipkin acknowledged that there are homes in Ofra built on lands with the same status as the homes built by the settlers and evacuated this week in Amona.

“If Israel does not find a solution to the status of lands like these, which exist in a number of other settlements as well, then there will be far more petitions,” he said.

The Israeli government has been advancing legislation to retroactively legalize outposts in order to preempt evacuation orders from the court. The Jewish Home party is also seeking to annex settlements in the West Bank, starting with Ma’ale Adumim.

Battle over Amona lands unfinished

While the Silwad mayor was keen on moving on to the next court case, some in Silwad were skeptical whether the battle over Amona was really over.

After Amona was founded, the farming area around the hilltop became inaccessible to Palestinians who owned the land.

Palestinian villagers who owned farming land in or around the settlement have not been given permission by the Israeli army to begin working the land, and it is unclear when or whether that permission will be given.

“It’s more important that we can use the lands, not that the settlement is evacuated,” said one resident of Silwad, who asked to remain anonymous.

Mariam Hammad, 83, a resident of Silwad who owns land that was taken by Israelis to build the outpost of Amona, November 2016 (Dov Lieber / Times of Israel)

Mariam Hammad, 83, was one of the residents of Silwad who successfully claimed lands at Amona.

“From the day they took it, I had a gut feeling and faith in God I would return. The mayor, lawyers and court gave me more confidence,” she said. “This land is mine by right. When I went to the Supreme Court, I only demanded my right. I didn’t take anything from anyone,” she added.

Kareem Shehada, a resident of Silwad who resides for part of the year in the US, said his father owns land in Ofra, but he never thought of getting it back.

“As individuals, we were powerless. There was nothing you could do about it,” he said.

While he wasn’t sure if he would try to petition the court over what he said was his father’s land, Shehada was far more concerned about people in the region living together peacefully.

“I wish Palestinian and Israelis could live in one country in peace,” said Shehada, noting that his father, who used to work in Haifa, had very close Jewish friends.