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Morocco: fighting the drugs war.

Morocco is under international pressure to curb drugs trafficking. In 1991 over 27% of drugs seized in EC countries were of Moroccan origin. This has presented King Hassan with an opportunity to strengthen his reputation in Europe.

OVER RECENT years, Morocco has been under pressure to curb drugs trafficking from the other members of the Trevi Group, which includes Western European countries, Canada and the United States. This coordination group against terrorism and drugs is concerned with the scale of exports of cannabis and derivates, such as the resin commonly called "chira", from Morocco to the European Community.

According to Interpol, 52 tonnes, representing over 27% of the quantity seized in 1991 in the European Community were of Moroccan origin. In addition, EC countries and Spain are worried by the dramatic increase in West African and Moroccan boat people, who have been trying to cross the Strait of Gibralter illegally for over a year. At the same time Morocco is keen to secure a new economic partnership agreement with the EC.

It is against this background that, in October last year, King Hassan announced tough plans to stop both illegal emigration and drugs trafficking. He also said that a huge development programme in the northern Rif region, which is the country's main cannabis producing area, would begin soon.

In a letter dated 15 December to the British prime minister, John Major, then acting president of the EC, King Hassan asked for the collaboration of the EC in a joint effort to fight drugs trafficking. In order to guarantee alternative incomes for the Rif farmers, the king suggested that the EC and Morocco should "set up a serious policy of substitution and compensation of the losses incurred by all farmers," who give up producing "kif" (Indian hemp).

One of the key arguments used by the Moroccan authorities is that both sides share the responsibility for the current situation. The governor of Tangiers, Ahmed Midaoui, believes that most of the "chira" seized by Moroccan customs is found on foreign trucks registered in the EC. In 1991, many EC citizens were among the 10,700 people arrested in connection with drugs trafficking in Morocco.

Moreover, the farmers' profits "are very low when compared to those of the middlemen and international traffickers who, in Europe, process and sell the resin and oil issued from cannabis. The ratio is 50 to 1", wrote King Hassan to John Major.

Five months after King Hassan's speech, the results are striking, with seizures falling to almost zero. About 3000 men of the navy, airforce, army, customs and gendarmerie are mobilised along the Mediterranean coast. In Tangiers, brand new radar equipment, helicopters, patrolboats and aircraft are used to prevent illegal crossings of the Strait of Gibralter.

The challenge of converting the Rif farmers to other crops is not an easy one, as Ministry of Interior officials acknowledge. The EC has given its agreement in principle to back the 20 billion dirhams (over $2 billion) five-year development programme, announced by King Hassan, which should be implemented during 1993.

The agreement includes infrastructures (roads, ports, airports), water supply, assistance to the farmers in order to develop orchard crops (mainly almond trees), stock raising schemes, rural electrification, the construction of small and medium sized dams for irrigation and the installation of 200,000 telephone lines.

The question now is whether the peasants can be convinced. The task is a daunting one. According to Moroccan officials, the area covered by cannabis fields has multiplied tenfold since the early 1980s, to reach around 30,000 hectares. The relevant areas are hardly accessible: some can only be reached after a difficult journey by mule. In some places like Kettama, last summer, dealers were feeling so sure of themselves they organised roadblocks to sell their "kif". The problem will be to persuade the farmers to abandon such lucrative crops. A kilogram of "kif" reaches a minimum wholesale price of 800 dirhams, according to the Ministry of Interior, whereas the same weight of almonds is sold at 50 dirhams in the markets of Casablanca.

Nevertheless, Ahmed Chbicheb, the director of the Derro (Rural Development of the Western Rif) programme, claims success for a pilot experiment of eradication carried out in the area of Issaguen, with the support of the World Food Programme (WFP) from 1989 to 1992. It succeeded because the WFP supplied the peasants with cereals during the years before the first almond crops. Also, efforts were made to expand arable land areas, find outlets for the crops and implement social and educational projects.

The success of the plan is also dependent on foreign input. King Hassan has promised that donors should have free access to information on the results of the projects funded.

It is also an open secret that should it succeed, it would strengthen King Hassan's reputation in Europe. He is keen to restore his credibility on the international scene.
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Title Annotation:Current Affairs
Author:Misser, Francois
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:817
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