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Cablegate: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

VZCZCXRO3780
OO RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHVN #0010/01 0030958
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 030958Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1736
INFO RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA 0120
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VIENTIANE 000010

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

WHITE HOUSE FOR DIR ONDCP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID LA SNAR
SUBJECT: WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

1. (U) Summary: The USG estimate of poppy cultivation in
Laos for 2007 is 1100 hectares, down from 43,150 hectares in
1989. Laos, at one time the world's third largest producer
of illicit opium, stands poised to end its tenure as a part
of the golden triangle. After an investment of more than 18
years and forty million dollars, U.S. counter narcotics
programs in Laos have helped bring about a 97.4 percent
decrease in production. Poppy cultivation is now only 100
hectares above the majors threshold (set by law at 1000).
Production could drop further if these efforts can be
sustained and if the thousands of former growers, now in dire
economic circumstances, can be persuaded not to resume the
only way they know to make a living. A final infusion of
alternative development assistance could address the latter
issue; absent that, this victory remains tenuous at best.
End Summary.

Laos: The Great Unheralded Victory in the War On Drugs
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (U) From the late 1980's until 2005, Laos was the third
largest producer of opium poppy in the world. Significant
poppy cultivation took place in about ten of 17 provinces,
and authorities took no significant action against it, though
they did tax opium until the mid 1990's. Laos exported
significant quantities of heroin to world markets including
the U.S., and was home to the world's largest number of users
of unprocessed opium. In 1989, when U.S. counternarcotics
programs began in Laos, the USG estimated poppy cultivation
in Laos at 43,150 hectares.

3. (U) Today, cultivation is estimated at 1100 hectares, a
97.4% decrease from project inception. Production has
declined precipitously since 2002, according to USG estimates:

Year Hectares
2002 23,200
2003 18,900
2004 10,000
2005 5,600
2006 1,700
2007 1,100

Laos has been on the USG list of major illicit drug source
countries since that list was created in 1987. This year,
Laos has the potential, after a 20-year tenure on the list,
to finally drop off. A decline of but 100 hectares could
achieve this and complete the collapse of the golden triangle
region to a single source country: Burma. Opium production
in Laos is now entirely for the domestic demand generated by
the vestige of its once widespread addict population;
commercial production for export is a thing of the past.
Most interesting of all, this was achieved almost entirely
through alternative development programs and drug education,
without any coordinated national effort at involuntary
eradication.

Changing the Culture of Opium Production in Laos
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (U) The rapid decline in Laos' opium production has come
in combination with a change in attitudes about opium
cultivation in the rural upland districts where it was grown
for decades. Thanks in part to U.S.-supported opium
awareness campaigns, poppy cultivation is no longer the
acceptable activity that it once was. In districts where
opium fields were planted along the roads only a few years
ago, growers are now scorned, and even the remotest fields
are cut if detected by local authorities. Opium has gone
from being a major albeit illicit crop common throughout
northern Laos to something planted only by the desperate in
very small and well concealed patches.

Conclusion: Can It Last?
-------------------------

5. (U) This is clearly positive, but Lao officials, foreign
experts, and poppy growers all express concern that it may
not be possible for the GOL to sustain. The GOL estimates
that half or more of all former poppy growers have yet to
receive any significant assistance from any source to
establish alternative livelihoods. The World Food Program

VIENTIANE 00000010 002 OF 002


reports that, in a number of communities formerly dependent
on poppy, serious and widespread food security issues have
emerged this year. In announcing the UNODC poppy survey
results for 2007, the UNODC Country Director and the Chairman
of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and
Supervision (LCDC) both expressed concern that the needs of
this population cannot be effectively addressed, there are
grounds for serious concern that farmers might be compelled
to revert to poppy cultivation or starve.
McGeehan

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