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Cretan ‘Drug Lords’ Defend Fields with Land Mines, Albanian Armed Guards

August 29, 2005

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- It used to be that Albanians on the Greek island of Crete were just there to pick olives, build buildings and work in menial restaurant jobs. However, now they seem to have become the armed guards of Cretan village ‘drug lords’ – though this description of the latter might be somewhat exaggerated.

On 20 August, Athens’ Kathimerini reported that

“…Cretan police trying to access a notorious belt of drug farms near the mountains of Rethymnon are reconsidering their tactics after coming under fire by Kalashnikov-wielding guards earlier this week

…The ‘Devil’s triangle,’ traced out by the villages of Anogeia, Zoniana and Livadia, has become ‘inaccessible,’ according to the officer whose unit referred to a ’state of complete lawlessness’ following the attacks.”Such disdain for outside control has been a fixture of life in Crete for at least 1,000 years. Proud Cretan villagers in mountain villages in the Rethymno, and especially Sfakia areas, presented endless problems for their Venetian and Turkish overlords and were never fully assimilated during these imperial periods. Even today other Greeks consider their Cretan cousins somewhat unique.

However, the image of mustachioed, ouzo-sipping Greek men clad in black becomes a bit less prosaic when one considers the unusual internationalization of the phenomenon: as the newspaper reports, “…apart from providing a base for the island’s cannabis cultivation, the ‘triangle’ is also believed to be a hub for trade in illegal arms and drugs.”

Crete’s endemic machismo has long made it a paradise for gun ownership. But now the government would like to bring the Cretans into line – by forcing them to register the 600,000 undeclared guns they possess (out of a total nationwide average of 1.5 million).

Yet legal or otherwise, the weaponry is no longer exclusively in Greek hands. According to the police officer quoted by the newspaper, the marijuana fields are defended by “…Albanians armed and under orders to fire at any perceived trespassers.” Land mines have also been set in place to deter police.

It is well known that the Albanian mafia in America gained a foothold after being recruited by the Italian mob to do their unsavory ‘hits’ and other violent jobs. The Greeks have expressed constant skepticism that the Albanian mafia could establish a foothold in their country- and especially, in well-armed and fiercely insular Crete. But arming illegal immigrants who already have little to lose, just to guard some ganja, seems like an extremely foolhardy prospect.

The international nature of this phenomenon has almost never been discussed. According to Kathimerini, “…police have often played down incidents in the area in their reports so they won’t have to face the drug mavericks, the officer said.” It also can’t be good for tourism, considering that the Anogeia area is one of the most distinctive places in Crete for foreigners looking for the ‘authentic’ Cretan experience. It may be too authentic by half.

Last July, Greek police following the Olympic torch relay spotted and destroyed 3 fields of cannabis – more than 6,500 plants – on the island, according to the AP.

At the exact same time the marijuana massacre was going on, 45 US special agents were carrying out security actions in Crete together with their Greek counterparts, ostensibly to protect American athletes training there.

The agency stated that, “…Crete’s mountainous landscape with its deep ravines is favored by cannabis growers, and police raids have increased in recent years after the deployment of police helicopters on the island.”

Earlier this month, Kathimerini reported that the vast majority of cannabis plants expected to be discovered for the year – probably ‘in excess of 30,000′ -are located on Crete:

“…police said Crete has a highly organized cannabis production industry with trees there sometimes reaching as high as 3.5 meters. Most of the hashish, which is considered to be top quality, is distributed in markets outside Greece. ‘It is certain that large quantities from the domestic production leave Crete,’ said a senior police source from Hania.”

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