Fushë-Krujë, an irrigation canal turned residents into cannabis growers

  • Shqip
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  • An exaggerated number of residents of Halil, Arameras and Nikël villages have been prosecuted for cannabis cultivation. During 2020 alone, 406 criminal proceedings were registered, with 51 perpetrators. Residents claim that the demolition of irrigation canals by the quarries has forced them to cultivate the forbidden plants

    Author: Nevila Dervishi

    He is only 35 years old and has just been released from prison for the second time for cannabis cultivation. As he recounts the ordeal of the battle with the “illegal plant”, he openly admits that he will not give up cultivating it.

    The young insists that it is his need to survive that has forced him to go on to cultivate narcotic plants.

    In an interview given on condition of anonymity to Investigative Network Albania, one of the dozens of residents of Fushë-Krujë claims that he has served a total of 3.5 years in prison and has just won his freedom for the second time, “by paying,” – as expressed by code, – 10 grains (10 thousand euros, ed.) ”.

    “I turned to drugs only to provide a living for my family. I have no income. Busineses pay 23 thousand ALL per month and that is all you can live off, if you want”, – he told INA MEDIA .

    Sitting in a bar in the Fushë-Krujë area, as he tries to control any suspicious movement in the parking lot, he accuses that it is the directors and police officers themselves who bless the flourishing of cannabis fields, in exchange for large sums of it.

    “Directors and officers (police, ed.) Have 3 or 4 houses … They get the money, not us. We can make 5 million old lekë all year round, others get them. The cops are all insiders. The simplest police officer can have 200 thousand euros…”, accuses the young man, who fails to find another alternative to help his family and children, immersed in poverty.

    The former mayor of Halil village also accuses the police of allowing the residents to cultivate cannabis.

    “The reason for the incarceration of the residents is only the State Police, because, if they were not given permission by the plenipotentiary (police officer, ed.) of the area, no one would plant, not even a sapling” , – says the former mayor of Halil village, Kadri Voga.

    Following the demolition of the cannabis fortress in Lazarat, a second, similar area of the banned plant cultivation is being set up in several villages near Fushë-Krujë.

    Numerous police operations have ended up with mass detentions of residents, causing court hearings to impose arrest measures to be accompanied by the unusual noises.

    According to the official data of the Kruja Prosecutor’s Office, only during 2020 for the crime of cannabis cultivation were registered 406 criminal proceedings, with 51 perpetrators, while for 2021 201 proceedings were registered, with 113 perpetrators and according to the same source the figures remained disturbing even during 2022.

    In some villages, such as Halil or Arameras, a large portion of the total population is being penalized for cannabis cultivation.

    Residents of Halil village, mostly unemployed, say the inability to produce agricultural products due to two decades of damage to the irrigation system has “forced” a large part of this community to turn its eyes away from cultivation of the forbidden plants.

    In the hills above their houses even today there are two reservoirs built since the time of communism, which are full of water, but which serve only to add the color green to the panoramic views.

    The water has not been used for about 20 years, as the numerous quarries that have populated this area also damaged the irrigation canal system.

    “Everything was destroyed due to the licensed quarries without criteria. When the license was granted, it was not said not to touch the canal. The canals were broken by the quarries and no one cared about this problem. An economic crime has been committed here,” said Kadri Voga, the former mayor of Halil village.

    Kadri Voga, the former mayor of Halil village, says that for years he has raised his voice for repairing the damaged irrigation network

    But the situation remains unresolved. Flamur Halili, the current mayor, arrested in 2021 because cannabis was planted in the village, confirms the situation.

    “The agricultural lands of the village of Halil, which has 3 thousand inhabitants, have not had water for irrigation for 20 years. In summer, the village is totally burned, no plants, no fruit are made … And this happens, even though the state in some cases has provided funds for the irrigation system to be repaired”, he claims .

    Flamur Halili, the mayor of Halil village, near one of the two lakes, whose water has not been used since 2000

    Agimi, another resident of the village, who has two children to support with money in high school, says with conviction that the residents turn to drugs only for survival.

    “Who pushes the man to crime, to cannabis? Poverty! If there was irrigation water in this area, they would not need to plant cannabis, and live in peace,” says Agim.

    “It’s survival, we have no bread to eat. At the moment from the tailoring factory I am paid 150 thousand lekë and we are 5 members in the family, where will I take this lekë first? If there was water, I would say that 80% of the people here would be satisfied”, – concludes Agim.

    Residents of Halil village confess that until the time when the irrigation system was functioning, agriculture was the salvation of this whole area. Tirana was close and at that time it inhaled with one breath all their agricultural products.

    They accuse the state of negligence, which has led the residents towards this solution.

    “I call it intentional by anyone who has ruled since 2000. Until 2000, there were quality products, they had where to take them and no one intended to plant narcotics. The water ran out, the lands dried up, the livestock ran out, what will the peasant do? Will go to plant drugs. In the village of Halil, there are over 80% of the inhabitants who, some are in prison, some are under criminal prosecution”, – says the former mayor, Kadri Voga.

    Negligence of the state

    The former mayor, Kadri Voga, says he has raised his voice as much as he can to repair the damaged irrigation network. He has announced several times the leaders of the Municipality of Kruja and further knocked on the doors of the government in Tirana, but without finding a solution.

    “Because of my interest, in one case a director of water came to the village, he saw the water tanks and the damaged canals, but in vain. Nothing has changed,” he recalled.

    Contacted by phone at 06820891xx, Mr. Artur Bushi, the mayor of Kruja, did not prefer to give any explanation, and thereafter he blocked all phone calls.

    Another municipality official, who insisted on maintaining anonymity, expressed surprise at the residents’ claims, adding that the irrigation systems belonged to another time and that, to his knowledge, they did not work in any other area of Albania.

    He further added that he was convinced that the story of the lack of water for irrigation was invented by the villagers to justify the planting of cannabis plants.

    However, the letters of the Municipality of Kruja prove another reality. In the Territorial Development Plan, drafted by this municipality in 2016, specialists have provided for the maintenance of the irrigation system for agriculture and beyond.

     

    Territorial Development Plan of the Municipality of Kruja, which provides for the maintenance of irrigation canals (in Albanian)

    It states that the maintenance of the irrigation system is a basic condition for the development of agriculture and that agricultural lands, located in the west, i.e. the area of the villages, where cannabis is already cultivated, are considered as the main engine of economic development.

    At the end of the paragraph, the specialists have underlined the problem, which is already raised by the residents, in the form: “After the ’90s, the lack of maintenance and in some cases the damage to the canal network has led to a significant decrease in production capacity.”

     

    Poor and hopeless

    This area, according to residents, does not even offer any alternative opportunities to secure income. Although some furniture shops and tailors operate in the area of Fushë-Krujë, the truth is that the salaries offered are minimal. They are around 15-23 thousand new lek per month, a figure that according to residents is by no means enough to support the family.

    Astrit Halili, a former immigrant returning to build life in his native village, feels disappointed by the reality of this area. According to him, due to unemployment, the youth has found salvation in cannabis.

    “There’s no job. Energy costs – higher than all over the world, salaries – the lowest. SPAK comes, checks for drugs and catches the poor. SPAK should arrest those who traffic drugs with quintals and tons, not the villager who plants 10 roots”, – says the former emigrant.

    Astrit Halili, former emigrant disappointed by the impossibility of securing a living in the village of Halil

    Residents confess that large cannabis plots are all planted in agreement with the police, sharing the profit in advance. Thus, in order to hide this part, the police invested to hit the residents who have planted 10 roots to make a living.

     

    Fruitless police initiatives

    Starting from 2017, when the Minister of Interior was Fatmir Xhafaj, in the fight against the cannabis phenomenon, the Albanian Police is guided by the strategy of “Action Plan Against Cannabis Cultivation and Trafficking, 2017-2020”.

    Although two years have passed since the pan’s term end, police chiefs continue to refer nominally to the same strategy, seeking the help and cooperation of local government, state-owned enterprises, education directorates and others.

    In implementation of this strategy, some time ago, on March 11, 2022, in Kruja, precisely to precede the disturbing phenomenon of cannabis cultivation in this area, a regional conference was held with the participation of the General Director of the State Police , Gledis Nano.

    Regional Conference Against Cannabis Cultivation, held in Kruja, on March 11, 2022

    “This is not only a challenge of the General Director of the State Police and his team, but it is a challenge of the government in the first place with the Strategic Anti-Cannabis Plan and the obligations arising from all decisions and action plans we have drafted.” said at the beginning of the conference the Director of the District Police, Neritan Nallbati.

    Durrës Police Director, Neritan Nallbati, who says that cracking down on the phenomenon of cannabis cultivation in the Kruja area is also a challenge of the government, defined in the Strategic Anti-Cannabis Strategic Plan

    Nallbati further called the area at high risk of cultivation of narcotic plants and asked for the help of other factors in controlling the territory.

    The Chief Prosecutor of Kruja, Petrit Çano, acknowledged the situation unlike any other area of the country and that he felt bad when the analysis of the work of prosecutors showed that small Kruja had the largest number of criminal proceedings due to cannabis cultivation.

    According to him, during 2020 only for “Cultivation of narcotic plants” were registered 386 criminal proceedings, while a year later, in 2021, 184 were registered.

    “Kruja continues to be one of the districts with the highest risk in terms of cultivation of narcotic plants. If you refer to the figures and statistics, they show that the risk continues to remain high … The number of criminal cases registered for this phenomenon, continues to remain high”, – stated in this conference the Chief Prosecutor of Kruja, Petrit Çano .

    Chief Prosecutor of Kruja, Petrit Çano, who claims the extraordinary number of criminal proceedings for the crime of cannabis cultivation in rural areas of Kruja

    Police statistics on cannabis cultivation cases in the area are also in line with prosecutor Çano’s concerns.

    According to official data, in 2020 there were 96 cases of cultivation of narcotic plants, while in 2021, although there were 71 cases, the number of criminally prosecuted was higher, with a total of 102 registered perpetrators.

    How could he have listened carefully to the testimony of that resident from the village of Halil, who had twice been imprisoned for cannabis cultivation, who said that the Kruja Police is implicated and shares the profits with cultivators and traffickers, in this meeting the General Director of Police , z. Gledis Nano, targeted exactly the cops and their honesty towards their duty.

    “Those police officers, who will be seen as negligent and, even worse, in abuse of office, will stand firm and I am very determined for that. Any police officer who pretends not to look and does, as if he does not hear and does, as if he forgets to report any such problems will be detained without any compromise. There is no compromise …”, – would say the head of the Albanian Police, Gledis Nano.

    The General Director of Police, Mr. Gledis Nano, who promised that the work of police officers in cracking down on the phenomenon of cannabis cultivation in rural areas of Kruja will be strictly monitored

     

    However, despite this harsh attitude of the head of the State Police, the residents are convinced that nothing happens without the knowledge of the police.

    “Anyone who deals in drugs will pay the money. If they do not pay, they will be caught. They are connected with the police, with the state. They divide them in half,” says Astrit Halili.

    To minimize this phenomenon, the offers in the Action Plan against Cannabis Cultivation and Trafficking, 2017-2022, are quite incredible.

    The strategy envisages to promote self-employment, to extend economic assistance programs to families in need, housing programs, education of children from families in need, free textbooks, fiscal incentives, tax breaks, debt forgiveness, financial support to at-risk farmers, for making available to this category 10 percent of the budget figure provided for the support of agricultural production, etc. Finally, it is written about programs to encourage farmers to cultivate medicinal plants or other legal crops, which provide as much benefit as cannabis.

    But the reality proves that the state structures do not plan to try to turn the inhabitants of the villages of Kruja and Fushë-Krujë away from cannabis cultivation through guidance and assistance, in order for this population to go to alternative ways of earning a living.

    Even the local government structures do not plan to fix the irrigation system for the villages near Fushë-Krujë, conceived as part of the National Anti-Cannabis Strategy.

    Action Plan against Cultivation and Trafficking of Cannabis, 2017-2020, approved by government decision and the site, which provides for the discouragement of planting narcotic plants, as well as the launch of legal, economic activity

    The residents themselves claim that, if the irrigation canals were regulated, the “life” of the village would change radically and the village of Halil would no longer be “famous” for cannabis cultivation.

    “Intentionally or unintentionally, the state is leading the villagers to crime, to plant drugs. If the state installs that irrigation system, which was functional until the 2000s, come and see how many agricultural products there will be. And, you will see, will anyone have the thought to plant drugs in the fields and mountains? ”, – concludes the former mayor, Kadri Voga.