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Drug Czar:' Trafficking, terrorism tied together

By ANDREA BYL  The State News, May 23, 2006

Grand Rapids Terrorism and the international drug trade are dependent upon one another, said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, at a symposium Tuesday evening.

Due to a unplanned meeting with President George W. Bush on Wednesday, the U.S. "Drug Czar" rushed through his speech on drug trafficking to catch a plane to Washington.

Walters, an MSU alumnus, heads up all federal drug programs and spending.

"The drug problem is not the same everywhere," he said to a crowd at the Gerald R. Ford Museum. "It is very focused."

Walters spoke about three major areas where he said terrorism and the drug trade go hand in hand.

From 1991-2005, Afghanistan saw a large increase in the growth of opium poppy, the plant opium is derived from, he said. While the Taliban ruled, it encouraged farmers to grow the poppy and threatened to harm farmers' friends and family if they didn't, Walters said.

The farmers were not the ones making the money, and the drug trade though inconsistent with Muslim religious beliefs brought the terrorist organization a large amount of funding, he said.

Since the Afghan government started to break away from Taliban hold, he said the amount of opium produced has decreased.

Walters said cocaine trafficking in Columbia has declined with the help of U.S. intelligence agencies. The use of boats has been the most efficient way for traffickers to smuggle drugs out of Columbia and into neighboring countries. U.S. intelligence officers have pinpointed the boat trafficking and can stop boats when they travel beyond Columbian waters.

"These are all businesses, just like terrorist organizations, with structure," he said. "In order to stop them, we have to understand their structure."

The Columbian government has seen the relationship and has started to take a more active role in communities around the country by establishing more schools and businesses, Walters said. When people have a community they want to invest in, drug trade goes down, he said.

"For the first time, today, the Columbian government has presence in all the provinces of Columbia," Walters said.

Although drug imports seep through all U.S. borders, 90 percent of drugs brought in from the Southern Hemisphere enter through Mexico, he said.

Walters said the National Guard has been used to control drugs on the border for years. Violence, terrorism and corruption in Mexico are linked with the drug industry, he said.

"The demand market depends on the addiction," Walters said. "It's not 25-year-olds having bad weekend choices it depends on addiction."

Walters' speech was coordinated by the Symposium on Science, Reason and Modern Democracy, a research center within the MSU Department of Political Science.

Norb Tuma, a Grand Rapids landlord, came out to hear Walters because he sees the effects of drugs daily with his tenants.

"I'm interested in the relationship of drug use and crime and how it relates to local issues," Tuma said. "Even in a place like Grand Rapids, drug use is rampant."

Jerry Weinberger, an MSU professor of political science who helped organize the event, said Walters' job is one of the most challenging.

"It is very difficult to convince the country you can win the war on drugs, and very difficult to convince them of the progress you made," Weinberger said.