Military MP Blames Sanctions for Opium Cultivation

A poppy flower grows at an opium plantation in Shan State. (Photo: Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy)

A poppy flower grows at an opium plantation in Shan State. (Photo: Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A military representative in Parliament’s Upper House has blamed Burma’s growing opium woes on poverty induced by economic sanctions, according to state-run media.

Tuesday’s New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that an unnamed military MP claimed rural Burmese continued to cultivate the crop because it offered “easy money” to poor farmers who have felt the sting of economic sanctions imposed by the West.

Those sanctions have largely been lifted as relations between the United States, the European Union and Burma have warmed under the administration of reformist President Thein Sein.

Despite the increasing economic engagement that the easing of sanctions has brought, opium production has continued to rise. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in its annual Southeast Asia Opium Survey in December that it expected output of the crop in Burma last year to rise 26 percent over 2012 production, to some 870 metric tons.

Burma is the world’s second-largest producer of opium, after Afghanistan.

The military MP made the remarks in introducing a proposal on Monday “to urge the union government to combat the practice of cultivation, trafficking and abuse of opium with the participation of the people,” The New Light of Myanmar reported.

It was passed by the Upper House, the newspaper added, without indicating what specific measures, if any, were included in the proposal.

2 Responses to Military MP Blames Sanctions for Opium Cultivation

  1. There is no doubt that sanctions constrained the growth of Myanmar’s economy, but the blame for Myanmar’s economic backwardness lies not predominantly with the West but with the failed development strategy of previous Myanmar governments. The lack of agricultural investment, for example, is due to the state’s ownership of all land, which discourages private investments, and the lack of rural credit facilities due to the state’s monopoly on lending to farmers. These factors both persist today, even though sanctions have been lifted. The only large-scale investment in agriculture is through Chinese cash-crop plantations in north-eastern Myanmar, which involves massive state-sanctioned land-grabs, forced displacement and the horrible treatment of workers (see various reports from the Transnational Institute). Again, this has nothing to do with sanctions – it is a deliberate choice made by the Myanmar government. As for opium trafficking, it is widely documented that the Myanmar government has allowed ethnic minority groups to continue trafficking in opium as a quid-pro-quo for supporting the government and maintaining a military ceasefire. Successive regimes have only cracked down on opium farming and trafficking in areas dominated by groups hostile to the regime or where the military has seen a particular political advantage in doing, or to impress foreign donors. Successive governments’ failure to conclude a legitimate constitutional settlement with the ethnic minorities that addresses their grievances is the reason why such quid-pro-quos continue to be used.

  2. Why don’t these shameless military men in the House put the blame on ethnics? The history clearly proves that the evil military regime had been liable for all messes in Myanmar. No positive contribution was done to the ethnics except killing them on their own lands and looting their belongings including their live stocks. The ethnics were never helped but suffering in the hands of soldiers at gunpoint. How many women got raped and killed? Now, this shameless man is trying to put blames on these poor ethnics. Burma was the land of plenty before military dictatorship. These soldiers better hang themselves if they see themselves as criminals against humanities.

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