The Miami Herald
December 7, 1998
Caribbean farmers protest plan to destroy marijuana plants

             By JAMES ANDERSON
             Associated Press

             SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Caribbean troops were rappeling from U.S.
             helicopters and learning how to avoid booby traps in dense tropical foliage over
             the weekend, preparing for a mission to destroy marijuana on the island nation of
             St. Vincent.

             Training began despite protests from hundreds of marijuana growers, who say they
             have no way to make a legal living.

             ``At this time of year, if the U.S. comes here and destroys our plantations, that will
             spell hardship and the business sector will feel the pinch for Christmas,'' protest
             leader Junior Cottle said.

             His new Marijuana Farmers movement, which claims to have 800 members, sent a
             letter to President Clinton on Thursday demanding compensation for lost marijuana

             Six U.S. Marine Corps helicopters will ferry more than 120 troops from the
             Caribbean Regional Security Service and St. Vincent police force this week to
             uproot and burn marijuana plants on remote northern plots.

             The two-week operation, targeting mountainous terrain near the 4,000-foot
             Soufriere Volcano, was requested by St. Vincent and the Grenadines' prime
             minister, Sir James Mitchell.

             Similar operations in recent years destroyed millions of plants in Trinidad, St. Kitts,
             St. Lucia, Dominica and Antigua. But none have stirred the kind of organized
             protest seen in St. Vincent.

             Without their plants, the farmers say unemployment in St. Vincent and the
             Grenadines will rise above today's 40 percent. That, coupled with U.S. action
             against the Caribbean's vital banana industry, could lead to unrest, they said.

             ``We have 8,000 people whose livelihood depends on marijuana,'' Cottle said.

             With an estimated 12,350 acres in production, St. Vincent is the eastern
             Caribbean's largest marijuana producer. Most is consumed on neighboring islands.

             St. Vincent business leaders concede that, although illegal, marijuana has become
             important to their economy. And it could become even more important, because
             the United States has successfully challenged a European Union quota system that
             was crucial to the region's banana industry.

             How much the marijuana crop is worth isn't known. But when the harvest comes
             in, soda trucks return to their Kingstown bases empty, and downtown stores do
             brisker business, said Martin Barnard, president of the Chamber of Industry and

             ``They told me they're in trouble -- the jobs are not there, they have children to
             support, they have to turn to the hills to farm marijuana,'' Barnard said. ``I am
             sympathetic to all that . . . but at the end of the day we had to say, `Fellows, it is
             illegal.' ''

             Mitchell and other Caribbean leaders have long warned that, without a European
             market for their bananas, many farmers will turn to marijuana or to smuggling
             cocaine and heroin. In St. Vincent, population 110,000, the banana industry
             employs up to 60 percent of the work force.

             But Mitchell told the farmers that tolerating their illegal work could lead to U.S.
             sanctions. Many farmers planned to harvest their plants before the U.S. helicopters

             U.S. officials say the Marines will only transport troops, not destroy plants. But
             there are risks, Marine Lt. Col. Jeff Douglass said.

             Regional troops will be trained to detect booby traps, such as shaved bamboo
             sticks in pits or crude pipe guns fired by trip wires, Douglass said.


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