The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia

Destroy the Narcotics Syndicates

There is little reason to hope that the United States will ever be able to destroy the criminal syndicates responsible for manufacturing, importing, and distributing America's heroin supply. For over forty years state and federal law enforcement agencies have been "cracking down" on organized crime. Occasionally a major mafioso like Lucky Luciano or Vito Genovese is imprisoned, but the basic structure of organized crime has never been imperiled. After at least three major U.S. Senate investigations, dozens of "hard-hitting" district attorneys, hundreds of Grand Jury inquiries, and an endless parade of media exposes, organized crime is stronger than ever. The Mafia is even investing its narcotics and gambling profits in legitimate corporate enterprises. Most Mafia bosses are respected members of their local communities and are protected by corrupt state and local officials.

Even if the leaders of organized crime were forced to stop financing and distributing bulk heroin shipments, they would be replaced by younger, more aggressive criminal gangs. Mafia bosses played a key role in reorganizing the international traffic after World War II, but now that the links between the United States and Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle are well established, their retirement would have relatively little impact on the narcotics traffic.

Since selling heroin inside the United States is one of the most profitable businesses in the world, it is almost impossible to break up the domestic distribution network of middle-level distributors, retailers, and street pushers. Most of the distributors in the lower echelons are addicts who have to support their own habits, and no amount of police pressure is going to eliminate them. With the enormous profits from heroin, retailers and pushers have been able to buy ironclad police protection. Most state and local narcotics police are rotten with corruption, and many police officers are actively engaged in pushing heroin when they are on the job. (8)

Corsican and chiu chau syndicates are just as immune to prosecution. The Corsican syndicates in France are protected by the highest echelons of the government, and their fraternal organizations in Saigon and Vientiane enjoy close working relationships with high-ranking government officials. Hong Kong authorities have admitted their inability to deal with the colony's heroin problem, and corruption is so rampant that there is little possibility of any immediate crackdown on manufacturers and exporters. In Southeast Asia the chiu chau syndicates operate with the full knowledge and protection of host governments; not even the names of the powerful syndicate leaders are known to international law enforcement agencies. Since government leaders in Thailand, Laos, and South Vietnam are heavily implicated in the narcotics traffic, it is a bit unrealistic to expect that they will make any serious efforts to attack the heroin traffic.