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Samuel, greying daily under the pressure of the tropical sunlight, has a smile that remains infectious despite his troubled years. And though he might appear cautious to strangers upon first meeting him, most people that know him well argue he should be, for he has paid his dues.

Though Samuel with his grey dreadlocks still twisted may look like an old man, he had only just passed his thirty-fourth birthday days before we met a week back. He is a good man too by local standards, for everyone in the village that he calls home openly will admit he would never hurt a fly, much less another villager.

Those around him that know him best refer to Samuel as "smoke stack". His friends recount to me the real damage they see that was inflicted upon their neighbour following his years of incarceration within the Belizean maximum security prison in the Belize District known as Hattieville. One told me bluntly, "you have to wonder what justice was rendered by locking up 'Smoke Stack'". In Samuel's own words, what emerges is a chilling tale that convinced me on the spot that I hope I never see the system from the inside.

As Samuel explains in explicit terms, "I spent twenty-one months for a half a pound of weed I got caught with on my bicycle one day while riding back down from the Maya mountains towards my home in Dangriga. I had done the trip for years, the law knew what I was up to, s&%t, I even gave smoke to cops. I'd cut them out handfuls at the checkpoints back in those days. But inside Hattieville, s&%t, I got educated real fast, cause while I was on the inside, I saw a motherf&%$er get beaten close to death for nothing more than being in the wrong f&%king spot at the wrong f&%king time, adios motherf&%$er…"

Samuel readily admits that he still smokes 'ganja', the street word for the clinical name of 'cannabis sativa L.' or the more commonly known slang term for 'marijuana'. He also still rides the same roundtrip to and from the slopes of the Maya mountains from his home in Dangriga that caused him all the trouble and the term of imprisonment in the first place. All in the name then as now in order to get the "sticky s%&t", as Samuel refers to the high grade marijuana, that he peddles on the streets of his hometown. "Smoke stack" admits openly, he plans to do just that until the day he dies.

And then there is 'L.M.' who claims he did several years in Hattieville for burglary and rape because in his angry words, "the b&t%h lied". 'LM' says he got out on being good in prison and then immediately as he will tell anyone that cares to listen, "I got popped again for selling weed and did another two years cause I couldn't pay the liar (lawyer). "As L.M. attempts to convince this reporter as well as those that were within hearing distance the day we talked together in a small bar near the ocean just off the main street in Dangriga, "Man, I was just trying to feed me wife and three kids. You can buy the s%&t on every corner in every town in Belize and when you happen to get caught, f&%king life comes to an end."

L.M. says the burglary and rape charges both stemmed from a domestic dispute with the common law wife that he still lives with day in and day out and has for over the last eleven and a half years, less the time in Hattieville. And regardless of his time spent in Hattieville, L.M.'s mood swings into defiance when it comes to his views concerning the police and dealing dope. Indeed, selling drugs on the street corners throughout the towns of Belize to make that fast 'buck' as L.M. will tell you "was a no-brainer. And if I had the dollars to pay the cops off, well I would have walked on the drugs charge."

For as L.M., who is not yet 35 years young and a father of three children, told me, he first got the controlled substance "fronted to him" by his uncle who works as part of an eight-man growing team. L.M. claims the teams regularly dodge those charged with the process of interdiction throughout Belize, from the fields in the Orange Walk District to the remote highlands of the Toledo District.

According to L.M., the growing teams go deep into the jungle bush for roughly one hundred and twenty days or so depending upon the weather and the rains. L.M. says that it takes that time for the crop to reach its maturity. He continues by saying, "the growing teams monitor from within and from outside their team the movements of the 'Dragon Unit'. They return to their families and fellow villagers with the cash crop". The 'Dragon Unit' is the elite division of the BDF (Belize Defence Force) that takes on the monumental task of fighting the growers and smugglers throughout Belize.

Once the four members of the growing team return with the harvest, L.M. says that almost immediately after they are repatriated with their village life, they are replaced by four other villagers that head for the bush to re-plant, grow, protect and harvest. It's all done in an effort that ultimately is required to meet the unrelenting demand both on the domestic front as well as the international market. The cycle goes on and on despite the billions of dollars worldwide for the manpower and training thrown at the growers and smugglers by the combined efforts of the Belize police and defence force, the United States DEA (Drug enforcement Agency), INTERPOL and law enforcement agencies from Paris to Asuncion to Capetown.

In essence, demand dictates just as the business of fighting drugs does, a budget that far exceeds the fiscal budgets of such countries as Belize, Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia in this hemisphere. The poorer developing nations in the world that face poverty and civil unrest such as Afghanistan have a hard time curtailing the drug industry. Afghanistan is responsible for 90% of the world's heroin production and despite the invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban in the US's ongoing war upon the shadows of terror, there has been a sharp increase in 'poppy' cultivation, the base product required for producing the illicit drug that now is the drug of choice in affluent communities in America and Europe. So too in the South American countries of Colombia and Bolivia that have in recent years seen a drastic influx of dollars focused upon the war on coca cultivation as well as exportation of cocaine, both have realized marked increases in production.

Even in the Ache Province in Indonesia that this past winter suffered nearly total devastation in the December 2004 Tsunami, a part of the world long realized for its marijuana production as well as its rebel oppositions to the Indonesian government, the business of drugs goes on. In that archipelago nation an Australian citizen was recently sentenced to 20 years for trafficking 4.5 kilograms of marijuana in a place where it is grown by local farmers. In the Schapelle Corby case in Indonesia she was sentenced while evidence clearly points to the reality that she was set-up in an intricate smuggling operation that involved airport baggage handlers from Brisbane to Sydney to Denpasar. Around the globe the business of drugs and fighting the smugglers and producers goes on, generation after generation.

In the end, whether we like to admit it or not, well it results in young lives that are thrown into overcrowded jail cells from Kenya to Cambodia to Uzbekistan to Belize. Despite all the good intentions of those that are charged to watch over them, as is the case in any country developed or undeveloped on the surface of the globe, the paroled prisoner exits a more informed and better connected enterpriser than he or she ever dreamed imaginable. And when their life has been destroyed, the choices to survive often push them deeper into the underworld of crime.

The International Centre for Prison Studies, based upon reporting from 2002 through 2004, reflects that the United States of America has the largest prison population in the world with 2,085.620 prisoners. The country of China came is second with a prison population of 1,548,498 prisoners. For the record, the Russian Federation was #3, 786,900; Mexico#7, 191,890; Iran#10, 133,658 ; Colombia # 20 with 68,545; Cuba #31, 55,000; Narru and Tuvalu were tied at #210 with 6 prisoners each. As for Belize's ranking, the country came in at # 150 with at the time 1,074 prisoners.

Although on the surface Belize seems to be fairing quite well compared to other countries around the globe, under closer examination, the prison population in Belize must be realized by looking at the rates of those imprisoned per 100,000 persons of the national population. The ICPS reports that again the US is #1 with 714 per 100,000. Russia holds #2 spot with 550 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. From there the report reflects that Cuba is #8 with 487 per 100,000; Colombia is #87 with 152 per 100,000; Iran is #55 with 191 per 100,000; Mexico is #63 with 182 per 100,000; Honduras is #82 with 158 per 100,000; China is #111 with 118 per 100,000; Guatemala is #164 with 68 per 100,000; Cambodia is #189 with 68 per 100,000. At the bottom of the list is the African nation of Burkina Faso that is # 211 with 23 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. As for our beloved Belize, the country is ranked #10 out 211 countries in the report, with a prisoner ratio of 420 prisoners per 100,000 citizens.

The reality, despite the compassionate efforts of the private management by 'Kolbe Foundation Limited' that took over the prison "pursuant to the Amendment to the Belize Prisons Act Chapter 139 of the Laws of Belize" on July 30th, 2002, like every prison around the globe, Hattieville Prison is as Smoke Stack said, "hell on earth". It is filled to overflowing capacities with some very mean people as well as many that have been caught up in the drug trade. Tragically, young people that become involved in the illicit world of drugs live life shoulder to shoulder on the inside with the worst that society has to offer.

In Belize, "the yuts" are pushed into a state of criminality by glorified music that allows art form to seduce them into a life they will regret down the road. While governments as well as the private sector often profit on the business of interdiction as well as production, the "yuts" from Belize to Morocco become the pawns of a global game that those that get caught loose, while those that pull the ropes of puppetry often live a lavish lifestyle.

Although the United States and the European Community state openly their opposition to the culture of drugs, they seemingly have no problem with their citizens being allowed to fly in and out of the EU nation of the Netherlands (Holland). In the city of Amsterdam there are literally more than 400 coffee shop cafes that allow persons from around the globe to fly in and out in order to legally catch that buzz that 'ganja' addicts require for the enjoyment of their vice.

Both the United States and Belize incarcerate their citizens for the same actions at home but they place no travel restrictions on their citizens who travel to the European country also known as Holland. If there is a war on drugs, why not start on the frontline by stopping all international flights between the USA and those from Belize City that can connect Belizeans to the cafes of Holland??

Why does the USA not stop such flights as they wage their war on drugs and terror. It's easy to understand why they fail to act, for where there is a need for interdiction there is again a need for weapons; where there is dope there is a market for companies to profit hugely in fighting the
narco-traffickers. There are subsidies that are given by the US government to those that are in bed with them in their proclaimed war on drugs, but then again there are those murky waters where drugs were trafficked and sold through clandestine operations and back office payments where both sides are played to the benefit of whom? The markets of demand that eventually dictate where the profits go and for what reasons can be found inside the borders of the two biggest consumers of illegal drugs, in the USA and Europe.

Hattieville prison has its fair share of growers and sellers of marijuana that are trying their best to feed their families in a land of harshness, where every single dollar counts. But we can all agree that illegal activities cannot be justified by the need to support one's family. Laws are meant to govern, they are required to keep a society civil.

That said, Belize and any other country in this writer's opinion should not allow its citizens worst yet its youth to be exploited by a global hypocrisy that allows dope to be openly smoked in Amsterdam when it is deplored in its own streets. At a time when fiscal policies are forcing the people of a nation into the streets to survive, why not turn to the insights of the Dutch and their futuristic approaches to drugs as a disease and a habitual problem that represents the true causes of criminal activity in the 21st century. What if Belize decided to turn the nation into a controlled nation where tourist were allowed to openly buy minimal quantities of marijuana? What if Belize controlled those that grow and sell the cannabis to be taxed heavily just like the practices in Holland, would not the government benefit from the 50% taxation that cleaned up the criminal and black markets that plagued the country of the Netherlands??

As Samuel 'smoke stack' told me so potently, "the appetite for weed will never ever stop us weed warriors from delivering the crops down from the mountains to the sellers on the streets of your town as well as mine. Dope smokers smoke, and we always will!!"

NOTE: You the reader must know that the names as well as the locations used to portray both 'Samuel-Smoke Stack' and 'L.M.' have been changed to protect the sources for this story. In writing this, no way should the reader interpret to be condoning drug abuse. To the contrary, we deplore the devastating effects it has upon societies around the globe, and especially the impact upon the youth and culture of Belize. Drug trade and drug abuse are not inherent to Belize, sadly the problem equally plagues every country on the planet.

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