NewsBriefs BUTTONS

U.S. Struggles With Policy to Squelch Flow of Heroin From Burma


March 1995

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has emerged as the leading supplier of heroin to the U.S., and the Clinton administration is caught between wanting to send aid for anti-drug efforts and standing in firm protest of human rights abuses in that country (Steven Greenhouse, "Burmese Lead in Heroin Supply and U.S. Tries to Respond," New York Times, Feb. 12, 1995, p. 3; Jim Mann, "Myanmar a Case Study of U.S. Foreign-Policy Dilemmas," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 10, 1995, p. H3).

Administration experts estimate that Myanmar's heroin production has doubled since 1988, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says more than 60 percent of heroin sold in the U.S. comes from that country. Ten years ago, the DEA says Myanmar was accountable for only 15 percent of the U.S. heroin supply.

Dr. Lee Brown, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is urging the Clinton administration to cooperate with Myanmar's military leadership in eradication efforts. "As the world's major producer of heroin, Burma is a very major, major, major problem," Brown said.

The State Department, on the other hand, argues that Myanmar's military leadership is "a highly authoritarian regime" responsible for the murder and detention of political critics. "We really don't think we can cooperate on much of anything with a regime that's as repressive as this one," an anonymous State Department official said.

In 1988, military leaders seized control of the country. Two years later, they refused to recognize the results of popular elections. At that time, the Bush administration froze trade and financial deals and discontinued funding for anti-drug efforts.

Human rights observers and Burmese military officials are unsure if U.S. aid would do much to stop the production of heroin. The Clinton administration is reluctant to send military supplies to the Burmese army, and even so, Burmese military officials say they would be unable to make a difference in heroin production in rural areas controlled by ethnic minorities. For now the administration has made a conditional offer of cooperation if the Myanmar leadership would release its political prisoners.