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Drugs, Terror and Tuna: How Goals Clash

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Drugs, Terror and Tuna: How Goals Clash




GENERAL SANTOS CITY, the Philippines, May 15 — This industrial city on the southern coast of Mindanao Island illustrates how America's various strategic aims in the wars on drugs and terrorism can clash, alienating important allies engaged in battling terrorism.


Among leaders of the Philippines' important tuna industry here, resentment is running high over trade legislation now on the Senate floor in Washington. The bill includes a provision to eliminate steep import taxes on canned tuna from Andean nations while keeping taxes in place for other countries like the Philippines.



The provision has attracted Congressional support because it is seen as bolstering America's war on drugs. The idea is that the bill will help create well-paid jobs in Ecuador and Colombia as an alternative to the drug trade.


But in another war — the one against terrorism — the legislation is causing anger in a country that has become an important part of the administration's plans.


It comes at a time when 600 American soldiers are helping the Philippine Army track Abu Sayyaf Muslim insurgents in the southernmost Philippines, and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has staked much political capital on helping the United States fight terrorism.


Virtually all of the tuna industry of the Philippines is located here and it employs thousands of migrant workers from small Muslim fishing communities that used to be bastions of various Muslim insurgencies. Local officials warn that the legislation could wipe out the tuna industry.


President Arroyo said that passage of the trade provision would deal a severe blow to the economy here while handing a propaganda victory to the Abu Sayyaf movement.


The combination would create heavy domestic pressure for the Philippines to retreat from its active support for the American war on terrorism, she warned in a telephone interview tonight.


"I will try very hard not to, but I will be under tremendous pressure," she said.


In much of the developing world, including Latin America and Africa, trade restrictions or tariffs on products ranging from steel to textiles are causing growing resentment toward the United States. The perception that the Bush administration is a protectionist one is growing.


President Arroyo argued that General Santos, the main city on the southern coast of Mindanao and home to most of the Philippines' tuna fishing fleet and canneries, was central both to the economic future of this region and to the fight against terrorism.


A powerful pipe bomb packed with nails exploded on a crowded sidewalk outside a supermarket here on April 21, killing 15 people and wounding dozens. A second pipe bomb was safely defused before it exploded at another supermarket the same day, and two shopping complexes have recently burned down here in the middle of the night in separate, unexplained incidents.


Police detectives here say that they are still unsure whether the attacks were terrorist incidents, criminal attempts at extortion or some combination of the two. But President Arroyo expresses no such doubts, saying tonight, "The Abu Sayyaf has been trying to get into General Santos and it has been very difficult for us to justify our support for the United States."


In a city where tunas festoon everything from billboards to restaurant signs, and where even the golf tournament is the Tuna Cup, the fishing industry's influence is impossible to miss.


Workers heave baskets of fish onto crude steel carts, which they then pull by hand over to a long open-sided shed. Women wash and sort the fish on long tables, the concrete floor beneath them dark and slippery with fish blood. A few larger tuna, some the size of a man, are carried individually to large, white boxes packed with half-melted ice, to be shipped directly to Japan to be turned into sashimi.


Renato Alonzo, 47, a fisherman in a ragged T-shirt and flip-flops whose boat had just docked after two weeks at sea, said that he had sold his tiny farm and joined a boat crew 10 years ago after learning he could nearly double his income, to roughly $4,000 a year. Now he can afford to send his two sons, aged 12 and 8, to school.


The bustling fishing port here and the nearby row of tuna canneries contrast sharply with most of Mindanao, where peasants still toil on subsistence farms or on large pineapple and coconut plantations. Years of drought, coupled with inadequate irrigation, have crippled agriculture while the global glut of low-priced steel has forced the closing of a big steel mill in northern Mindanao.


The tuna industry here barely existed until the late 1980's when the United States led Japan, Italy and other donor nations in an ambitious foreign aid program aimed at rebuilding the Philippines after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos.


A full-scale guerrilla war was being waged in Mindanao then, a far broader conflict than the handful of kidnappings and possibly bombings linked to Abu Sayyaf now. General Santos City was nearly surrounded by several very large insurgencies that attracted poor youths from the island's Muslim minority. The city had a small fishing fleet, but it mostly caught fish for local consumption.


But the world's richest tuna fishing grounds lay between here and Indonesia, although boats from Thailand mainly fished them then. Foreign donors built the fishing port here as well as a large cargo airport, a container port, extensive roads and a modern phone system, hiring security guards from rebel forces and buying sand, gravel and other construction materials from rebel leaders' businesses.


With ready transportation to foreign markets, six big canneries were built, each employing more than 1,000 workers. The only two other tuna canneries in the Philippines are in Zamboanga City in southwestern Mindanao, the staging area for American troops pursuing Abu Sayyaf. Some 30,000 fishermen now supply the canneries.


The tuna boom has helped persuade all of the rebel movements except the Abu Sayyaf splinter group to lay down their arms under armistices with the government. Many former rebel commanders and foot soldiers have taken jobs at the canneries, which have had no problem with the bombings that have afflicted shopping centers.


Abuhasan Jama is a former major in the Moro National Liberation Front who studied guerrilla warfare in Malaysia in 1979 and 1980 and then spent 13 years fighting the Philippine government in the jungles of Mindanao.


Now he is the security chief at Ocean Canning here, his eldest daughter is in college and he has found jobs at the same cannery for three cousins who are also former guerrillas. "I like to work," said Mr. Jama, 41, recalling that in the jungle "sometimes you'd just eat leaves, the roots."


Mariano M. Fernandez, the general manager of Ocean Canning, said that he used to carry two Smith & Wesson handguns, one strapped on each hip. "It was like the Wild West here," he said, adding that he carries only a cellphone now.


Most of the tuna canned here is sold in the United States under less famous brands like Geisha and Dagim. Bumble Bee and Starkist used to buy large quantities of tuna here but have recently begun relying on Ecuador instead, allowing that country to edge past the Philippines last year to become the second-largest foreign supplier of tuna to the United States, after Thailand. Starkist in particular is now pushing for the elimination of import tariffs on canned tuna from Ecuador.

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man, this is fucking brilliant. i swear i read the first paragraph, why can't we just leave some shit alone?

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More brilliant exercises by a brain-dead government. Yeah, those tuna jobs in South America will look real appealing at $4000 a year, the drug lords are gonna be hit hard by a staffing shortage. Whatever will they do?

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