The Hemp Grower, Conspiracy Theories and Nicaragua

The Hemp Grower, Conspiracy Theories and Nicaragua
Posted by FoM on January 10, 1999 at 07:09:26 PT

MANAGUA Paul Wylie says he's an expert Hemp grower with a BA in horticultural genetics from the University of Guelph. His business partners and financiers claim he has a PhD! 
Claims government is covering up having given permission to grow illegal crop! His sister-in-law doesn't believe he attended a post-secondary school. And the University of Guelph has no record of the mysterious Canadian. These may seem like peripheral details. But they're tremendously significant to the 45-year-old's immediate - and perhaps extremely long-term - future. Wylie is being held at the La Modelo prison here, awaiting trial on charges of growing marijuana - 57 hectares of pot plants. If convicted, he could face the maximum 30-year jail sentence for what has been called the biggest drug bust in Nicaraguan history. But Wylie insists the authorities have got it all wrong: that he's just an innocent scientist and entrepreneur from Ontario whose gotten himself entangled in a cocked-up scenario of Hitchcockian proportions; a poor stooge who's being framed by embarrassed government officials. ``There's somebody behind all this,'' Wylie said during a jail-house interview. ``I don't know if it's the American influence or what. But somebody is pulling the string.'' Paranoid or desperate? Honest or cunning? Wylie was arrested Dec. 23 after a raid at the Canadian-operated Hemp-Agro International plantation, about 25 kilometres east of Managua. Six other Canadians and one Nicaraguan national have also been charged, in absentia. They were all out of the country when the gunpoint raid was staged, and have not ventured back to help out their colleague. Nicaragua, like the United States, makes no distinction in law between industrial-grade hemp (used in the manufacture of cosmetics, and cultivated legally in Europe) and the hallucinogenic version of the plant, marijuana. Both have the same horticultural genus, but the industrial hemp plant has an extremely low level of the hallucinogenic chemical THC. Canada legalized the production of hemp last March, rescinding a 60-year ban on the plant. Wylie insists he and his partners imported 15 tonnes of industrial hemp seed from China to Nicaragua last July, with the full knowledge and approval of the Nicaraguan government. Wylie suspects the raid was launched at the urging of U.S. drug officials in Nicaragua. A week before his arrest, sanitation officials descended on the plantation and took away plant samples. Wylie was then interrogated by Drug Enforcement Agency officials, including the second-in-command of Nicaragua's narcotics unit. At that meeting, American DEA agents were also present. ``It was obvious to me that the Nicaraguans were being told what to do by the Americans,'' says Wylie. ``They kept looking at them and asking what questions should be put to me.'' The U.S. embassy in Managua has confirmed their DEA agents had inspected the plantation and were providing technical support to the Nicaraguans, who do not have their own testing facilities. Grant Sanders, president of Vancouver-based Hemp-Agro (and Wylie's nephew), has already accused the DEA of applying pressure on the Nicaraguans to ``declare something illegal that is in fact legal in Canada.'' But apparently not legal in Nicaragua, despite what the ministry of agriculture may have said about the Canadian project. Wylie is adamant that Hemp-Agro was not raising a marijuana crop. This might be difficult to prove now, though, because the entire hemp field has been burned and destroyed. At the preliminary hearing, Nicaraguan authorities said that the plant they had tested had 1.6 per cent THC - above the level that would be legal in Canada, but still, according to Wirtshafter, well below a level that could be sold as a drug. John Adams, the Canadian consul in Managua, has been to see Wylie three times since his arrest. He stresses that, under Nicaraguan law, an individual is considered guilty until proven innocent. ``Perhaps the ministry of agriculture got hoodwinked and they were made to look foolish by smooth-talking foreigners who happen to be from Canada,'' says Adams. This case has received intense media coverage over the last three weeks. On Friday, local newspapers here carried stories alleging that Wylie had once been arrested for break-and-enter in the United States. Wylie denies this, but does admit he has one conviction for possession of a ``small'' quantity of pot, ``a long time ago.'' He also claims not to have smoked marijuana in ages. Wylie is evasive about his whereabouts and activities over the past 20 years. He says he was employed as a hemp specialist in Europe and in the Ukraine, but provides no dates nor names of the companies for which he worked. He won't even say where he lived for most of that period. ``I just went back and forth a lot.'' The Star was welcomed with great civility by the warden at La Modelo prison Friday. But yesterday, jail officials refused to allow a second interview with Wylie, nor would they permit him to take a telephone call or accept a written note. Overnight, all jail guard friendliness had disappeared and the prison had returned to what it always was - an ancient, squalid facility with terribly overcrowded conditions, where 2,575 inmates are held. Forty of them are foreigners. Only one is Canadian. 
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