Amsterdam No Longer Wants to Be a Narco-State - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Amsterdam No Longer Wants to Be a Narco-State
Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema (Geemente Amsterdam/Wikimedia Commons)

Amsterdam is launching an offensive to attract tourists interested first and foremost in its architecture and museums, and to bar those who are primarily attracted by its Red Light District and drug dens. These so-called “coffee shops” will soon be closed to foreigners anyway, if the city can get around the legal obstacles to enforce such a controversial measure.

In a policy document published last week, the city also declares war on stag and hen parties in the infamous district, as well as on on pub crawls, smoking pot in public, loud party boats, the prostitution industry, and home owners renting their apartments for short stays. Hotels and B&B’s of ill repute are required  to close.

What a difference a few years make. It was only in the nineties that Amsterdam launched a campaign to attract visitors from around the world. The city’s politicians, overwhelmingly left-wing, now bemoan its success as entrepreneurs in the tourism industry have bought up large swathes of the most visited areas, catering almost exclusively to visitors from abroad. Souvenir shops, tour organizers, fast-food joints, convenience stores, dubious establishments where drug money is being laundered and, of course, the ubiquitous coffee shops have severely dented the look and image of what remains a beautiful city of 800,000 inhabitants.

The new municipal counter-offensive targets those tourists who primarily come to indulge in alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. It gives short shrift to the once lauded Dutch drugs policy. When in the late nineties, then French president Jacques Chirac called the Netherlands a “narco state,” most of the media and the political class poured scorn on this ignoramus for not appreciating a  policy meant to neutralize organized crime.

The same fate befell the then American drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who, during a visit to Amsterdam, deemed the Dutch policy “an obvious disaster.”

Gradually, however, the city conceded that its critics at home and abroad had a point. But it wasn’t until 2019, when the Italian writer Roberto Saviano castigated the “disastrous” Dutch approach, that it agreed on the need for urgent action. Mr. Saviano, a specialist on organized crime in Italy, is forced to live under permanent police protection hiding from the Camorra. He wrote in a Dutch newspaper that the country’s “lax” financial regulations permitted shady financial circles to launder enormous profits from the drug industry for use in the legal economy.

Mr. Saviano stated at the time that, contrary to his native Italy, journalists in the Netherlands had not yet been killed by the Mafia. But in July 2021, Dutch investigative reporter Peter R. de Vries was gunned down in broad daylight in a busy pedestrian street in Amsterdam. He died five days later. Dutch media as well as the police immediately linked the assassination to the victim’s reporting on the gang of the Dutch-Moroccan drug lord Ridouan Taghi, who expanded his small cannabis business into a powerful criminal organization. In December 2019, Mr. Taghi was deported from Dubai to the Netherlands, where prosecutors have demanded a life sentence. Not for the assassination of Mr. de Vries, however, as the suspected murderers, small-town crooks, refused to say in court who ordered the killing. Taghi was in jail when De Vries was attacked, but investigators do not rule out that he communicated with his henchmen on the outside on the fate of his enemies, or that he did so during his exile in Dubai.

After the death of Mr. de Vries, which the Dutch equalled to the assassination of the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002, Roberto Saviano alleged that the root cause of the reporter’s fate was the legalization of soft drugs in the Netherlands. The naive ideals of the sixties and seventies had cruelly backfired and given organized crime a licence to print money, Mr. Saviano stated. The “hippie dream” lies at the heart of what he termed the “present catastrophe.”

Respected Dutch criminologist Hans Werdmölder supports this point of view. In his book Nederland Narcostaat, Netherlands Narcostate, he in a way rehabilitates the much maligned late president Chirac. “The Netherlands are a de facto narco state, not de jure, of course,” he writes.

Hordes of young foreigners from all over the globe give Amsterdam’s cultural and historical treasures a miss, descending instead in droves on the drug dens.

No wonder that the number of these establishments exploded from a few dozen nationwide to about 400 in Amsterdam alone. Organized crime exploits a system that allows the smoking of cannabis in cafes that are legally bound to stock only small quantities of the stuff. But its commerce wholesale remains illegal. Criminologist Hans Werdmölder: “Customs officers can intercept shipments of drugs in the port of Rotterdam which in the coffee shops are a legal merchandise.”

Contrary to predictions in the sixties and seventies, Dutch dealers in soft drugs often switched to the much more lucrative trade in the hard stuff. Others have converted to the production of synthetic drugs like ecstasy which they export worldwide, or became prominent in the distribution of South American cocaine all over Europe,

This trade knows no crisis and is worth an estimated 40 billion dollars a year, much of it channelled towards the legal economy, undermining Dutch society as a whole.

There is no shortage of customs officers and police personnel bribed by criminals, of judges, journalists and lawyers intimidated, threatened, or assassinated, as happened to a lawyer defending a state witness against Ridouan Taghi.

Young people, often of Arab or Surinamese origin, are tempted to accept the easy money offered by hardened criminals to kill their competitors. This has led to a situation where, in Amsterdam, hardly a week goes by without criminals settling scores in or outside of coffee shops, using firearms, knives, and explosives. The hippie ideal has generated a monster, and the city of Amsterdam has let it happen, ignoring the warnings and the stray bullets until it was no longer possible to do so.

To its credit, Amsterdam has had some success in reducing the number of coffee shops, of which there are about 150 left, all situated, however, in the areas most frequented by tourists. Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the stream of tourists to a trickle, to the delight of locals talking about “taking back” their city. Now, in the Red Light District, the desolate spectacle has returned of throngs of drunken, tipsy, or stoned tourists wandering along the canals under a foul-smelling cloud of cannabis smoke. At weekends, the rare locals who have not already left often don yellow vests and venture into the streets trying to dissuade the tourists from shouting, fighting, or relieving themselves  on porches or in the narrow canals bordering this hellhole.

More than her predecessors, the current leftwing mayor, Mrs. Femke Halsema, has set her sights on liberating Amsterdam from the effects of the drug trade, prostitution, and other scourges  driving the locals to despair.

She faces an uphill struggle, not only from those  engaged in criminal activities and their lawyers, but also from  left-wing politicians in the city council. Who argue that her proposal to ban foreigners from coffee shops, where they represent the vast majority, violates their human rights. It would in any case be as difficult to enforce as the proposed ban on smoking weed in public.

Mrs. Halsema recently regretted that about 58 percent of tourists visiting Amsterdam frequent the drug haunts. A huge number, considering that in 2019, around 21 million people came to visit. The mayor, mocked in the right-wing press for her wokeism, has nonetheless shown courage in tackling issues which none of her predecessors have managed to solve. Her success is by no means certain, but the mere fact that a left-wing socialist vaunts authoritarian measures resting on rickety judicial bases is testimony to Amsterdam’s  despair.

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