The WikiLebanon Files (Part VI): Garbage Crises and the Lebanese Civil War

A parking meter is seen between a pile of garbage on a Beirut street, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

A parking meter is seen between a pile of garbage on a Beirut street, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

This is the sixth post in a series of monthly posts covering Lebanese WikiLeaks cables.

On July 17, activists in the town of Naameh, just south of Beirut, forcibly closed Lebanon’s largest landfill, halting trash collection in Beirut and its environs and flaring tempers this summer.

Earlier this year, the government finally agreed that the landfill would be shut down for good this July. But they never agreed on an alternative way to handle the massive amounts of waste produced by Beirut and surrounding communities.

As Beirut drowns in its own garbage and corruption, I’m publishing four 40-year-old U.S. diplomatic cables  mentioning similar garbage crises the country suffered from during the chaotic days of the Lebanese civil war.

Ironically enough, the last two cables date from May 1976 and talk about the presidential election’s deadlock as well as the garbage crisis. 2015 much?

Unless you really, really enjoy reading about the battles of 1975 and the forgotten presidential elections of 1976, look for the mentions of the garbage crises in bold.

Hope you enjoy Lebanon’s 20th century trash-talk.

0900 LEBANON REPORT
1975 October 18, 07:57 (Saturday)
1975BEIRUT12952_b
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UNCLASSIFIEDFrom:
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 06 JUL 2006
YESTERDAY’S RELATIVE PEACE AND QUIET SLIPPED A BIT YESTERDAY AFTERNOON WITH KIDNAPPINGS INCREASING THE UNEASINESS OBVIOUSLY EXISTING BOTH SIDES. LAST EVENING WAS QUITE NOISY IN RAS BEIRUT. CONSIDERABLE AUTOMATIC WEAPONS FIRE AND EVEN A FEW MORTARS AND/OR ROCKETS GOING OFF. TRAFFIC INTO AND IN THE CITY THIS MORNING NOT QUITE AS HEAVY AS YESTERDAY BUT ALL ACCESS ROADS ARE OPEN. PALL OF SMOKE OVER CITY BUT DUE TO SYSTEMATIC GARBAGE BURNING ABOUT EVERYWHERE AND NOT REPEAT NOT DUE ARSON OR BOMBINGS. FOR THE FIRST WEEKEND IN OVER A MONTH WE ARE PERMITTING EMBASSY PERSONNEL TO GO TO DAMOUR, JUNIEH AND INTO THE MOUNTAINS BEHIND BEIRUT.
LATEST TIME AND WEWSWEEK COPIES REACHED BEIRUT YESTERDAY. HAVE OBVIOUSLY CAUSED CONSTERNATION IN MOST COMPANIES’ HOME OFFICES. AMERICAN BUSINESSMEN HERE CURRENTLY FREQUENTLY MORE WORRIED ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON IN HOME OFFICES THAN WHAT IS TRANSPIRING IN BEIRUT. ZAHLE AGAIN DICEY. PRESS REPORTS SEVEN DEAD PRINCIPALLY DUE KIDNAPPING.
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0900 LEBANON REPORT
1976 January 5, 12:01 (Monday)
1976BEIRUT00055_b
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UNCLASSIFIED
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 04 MAY 2006
1. WEEKEND SAW MUCH KIDNAPPING AND LOOTING. THIS MORNING, MON., JAN 5, CALLED ON MARONITE PATRIARCH (SEPTEL), SO DROVE DIRECTLY FROM HOUSE VIA AIN RUMMANEH, ASHRAFIYEH, QARANTINA, BORJ HAMMUD, DORO TO BKIRKE. MANY PHALANGE ROADBLOCKS, SOME ARMENIAN (VIGILANTE TYPE) KEEPING ARMED MEN OUT OF ARMENIAN PORTIONS OF CITY. NO REPEAT NO MOSLEM, EVEN IN PORT AREA, THROUGH WHICH I RETURNED. CONSIDERABLE TRAFFIC IN AND OUT OF TOWN, NOTWITHSTANDING RADIO WARNINGS THIS MORNING RE DANGER DRIVING. NEVERTHELESS, BEIRUT IS A JUNGLE OR BEDLAM; NO ONE FOLLOWING TRAFFIC RULES, ARMED LOCAL MEN TRYING DIRECT TRAFFIC; STREETS POTHOLED AND FULL OF WATER DUE GARBAGE BLOCKING SEWERS AND HEAVY RECENT RAINS. NO GARBAGE HAS BEEN COLLECTED FOR WEEKS.
2.AUG OPENED THIS MORNING, AS DID BUC, IC AND ACS. AUB ATTENDANCE BETTER THAN EXPECTED, BUT EVERYONE VERY, VERY NERVOUS. PAN AM RESUMING ONCE WEEKLY FLIGHTS. BANKS CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 00055 051228Z
NOT REPEAT NOT OPEN.
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1. LEBANON IS QUIETER 5 MAY WITH NOTICEABLE REDUCTION IN CLASHES AND SHELLINGS OBSERVED BEGINNING AFTERNOON 4 MAY AND CONTINUING THROUGH HOURS OF DARKNESS. CLASHES IN PORT AREA HAVE FALLEN OFF AND PLA FORCES HAVE REPORTEDLY BEGUN MOVING INTO BUFFER ZONE BETWEEN ALLENBY AND PATRIARCH HOYEK STREETS TO SEPARATE AND DETER COMBATANTS. PUBLIC INDICATIONS HAVE BEEN THAT THESE FORCES WILL FIRE UPON EITHER SIDE BREAKING CURRENT TRUCE TO WHICH ALL MAJOR FACTIONS, RIGHT AND LEFT, HAVE NOW PUBLICLY ENDORSED. REMAINS TO BE SEEN, HOWEVER, WHETHER PLA WILL BE ABLE OR WILLING TO FUNCTION AS EFFECTIVE AND IMPARTIAL DETERRENT FORCE ALONG CONFRONTATION LINE AND IN DOWNTOWN BUSINESS DISTRICT.
2. EXCEPTIONS TO OVERNIGHT QUIET WERE TRADITIONAL TROUBLE ZONES– SHIAH, HADATH, AND LAYLAKI–IN BEIRUT SUBURGS. NO GROUND MOVE- MENTS HAVE BEEN REPORTED THERE, BUT SUBSTANTIAL SHELLING AND MORTARING OCCURRED IN EARLY MORNING HOURS OF 5 MAY. BEIRUT AIR- PORT WAS AGAIN RECIPIENT OF MORTAR FIRE MID-AFTERNOON 4 MAY AND AT APPROX. 0100 HOURS LOCAL 5 MAY, POSSIBLY AS RESULT OF OVERSHOTS ORIGINATING IN HADATH.NO DEATH AND LIMITED MATERIAL DAMAGE RESULTED FROM LATEST SHELLING, BUT AIR FRANCE HAS ANNOUNCED THAT IT IS SUSPENDING REGULAR SERVICE TO BEIRUT AND WILL CONSIDER LANDING HERE ON CASE BY CASE BASIS. FRAGMENTARY REPORTS INDICATE THAT CLASH OCCURRED IN AKKAR AREA OF NORTH YESTERDAY BUT INIT AL INDICATIONS RECEIVED BY DATT SUGGEST THIS DUST-UP MAY HAVE BEEN RESULT OF INTERNAL SQUABBLING WITHIN LOOSELY STRUCTURED LEBANESE ARAB ARMY (LAA) ADHERENTS IN THAT REGION.
3. NO PALPABLE PROGRESS HAS BEEN ACHIEVED ON THE POLITICAL FRONT DESPITE THE RAPID APPROACH OF SCHEDULED PARLIAMENT SESSION ON
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MAY 8. THERE ARE GROWING ANTICIPATIONS THAT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT AT THAT TIME WILL NOT RPT NOT BE POSSIBLE BECAUSE OF FAILURE OF BROAD SPECTRUM OF LEBANESE POLITICAL OPINION TO COALESCE BEHIND SINGLE CANDIDATE ACCEPTABLE TO SYRIA. AMIN AL HAFEZ HAS RETURNED FROM DAMASCUS, HELD NON-ILLUMINATING PRESS CONFERENCE, AND SCHEDULED MEETING TODAY WITH HIS COHORTS IN SPEAKER ASSAD’S “INDEPENDENT” BLOC TO REPORT RESULTS OF HIS MISSION. IT IS WIDELY ACCEPTED THAT HIS EFFORTS TO CONVINCE SYRIANS TO ACCEPT “THIRD” CANDIDATE FOR PRESI- DENCY MET STONE WALL. ADDITIONALLY, PRIMIN KARAME AND SHIITE IMAN MUSA SADR HAVE EXPRESSED OPPOSITION TO COMPROMISE CANDIDATE CONCEPT–A PRETTY GOOD INDICATION OF WHERE SYRIA STANDS.
4. AT MOMENT, THEREFORE, EDDE AND SARKIS REMAIN ONLY SERIOUS CONTENDERS AND STALEMATE BETWEEN THEM PERSISTS. EDDE IS CAMPAIGNING HARD, ISSUING HARD-CHARGING STATEMENT AGAINST SYRIA 4 MAY IN WHICH HE PREPARED GROUND FOR HIS DEFEAT BY STATING THAT,IF HE NOT ELECTED,HIS FAILURE DUE TO SYRIAN INTERFERRENCE. NEWSPAPERS CON- TINUE MEANWHILE TO REPORT FAITHFULLY ACTIVITIES OF MINOR HOPEFULS, INCLUDING NEWCOMER SAID AKL.
5. STATEMENTS OF BOTH KARAME AND JUMBLATT FOLLOWING 4 MAY MEETINGS WITH AMBASSADOR BROWN WIDELY CARRIED IN PRESS. BOTH POLITICIANS EMPHASIZED USG POSITION THAT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT IS PURELY LEBANESE DECISION AND JUMBLATT TOLD REPORTERS THAT AMB. HAD ASSURED HIM THAT USG HAS NO RPT NO CANDIDATE IN PRESIDENTIAL SWEEPSTAKES. JUMBLATT ALSO REPORTED TO PRESS THAT AMB HAD EXPRESSED HIS CONCERN ABOUT INDISCRIMINATE SHELLING BY BOTH SIDES OF RESIDENTIAL AREA AND JUMBLATT ADDED THAT HE AGREED WITH AMB. THAT THIS SHOULD CEASE FOR HUMANITARIAN REASONS.
6. ON BRIGHTER SIDE, MANY AREAS OF RAS BEIRUT RECEIVED 5 MAY FIRST VISITS FROM NEWLY PAINTED CITY GARBAGE TRUCKS IN MANY MONTHS AS CONCERTED EFFORT APPARETNLY BEING MADE TO REMOVE HUGE HEAPS OF ACCUMULATED REFUSE WHERE LARGE COLONIES OF RODENT REFUGEES HAD MADE THEIR ABODE. EYEWITNESS HAS TOLD US THAT SIMILAR EFFORT IN AL HOUT STREET AREA WAS ABORTED WHEN ARMED ELEMENTS FIRED ON GARBAGE TRUCKS.
7. KARIM PAKRADOUNI OF PHALANGE POLITBURO HAS JUST INFORMED EMBOFF THAT HE IS TRAVELLING 5 MAY TO DAMASCUS FOR CONSULTATIONS. TRIP APPARENTLY DECIDED DURING HIGH-LEVEL MEETING OF PHALANGE LEADERSHIP
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AT NOON TODAY.
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1. FURTHER ELEMENTS OF UNCERTAINTY WAS INTERJECTED INTO LEBANESE POLITICAL PROCESS EVENING 6 MAY WHEN KAMAL JUMBLATT, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF “PROGRESSIVES”, PUBLICLY OPPOSED CONVENING THE PARLIAMENT TO ELECT A NEW PRESIDENT BEFORE “ALL FORMS OF PRESSURE ARE LIFTED AND ALL INTERFERENCE IS ENDED.” WHILE JUMBLATT’S REMARKS DO NOT RPT NOT CONSTITUTE A FORMAL DEMAND THAT THE 8 MAY SESSION BE POSTPONED, THEY DO INDICATE THAT JUMBLATT AND THE SYRIANS HAVE NOT YET BEEN RECONCILED. AS FURTHER EVIDENCE, SYRIAN-SPONSORED DAILY, “AH SHARQ”, UNLEASED 7 MAY BROADSIDE AGAINST JUMBLATT.
2. WHETHER SOME OF ‘ARAFAT’S UNDERLINGS HAD SECRETLY JOURNEYED TO DAMASCUS PREVIOUSLY OR NOT, IT NOW SEEMS CLEAR THAT ‘ARAFAT HIMSELF DID NOT RPT NOT DEPART LEBANON UNTIL 6 MAY, WHEN HE FLEW TO SYRIA. IF HE IS SEEKING, AS SOME OBSERVERS BELIEVE, TO MEDIATE BETWEEN JUMBLATT AND THEY SYRIANS, IT DOES NOT APPEAR THAT HE WILL BE ABLE TO PUT THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE IN TIME FOR SATURDAY’S PARLIAMENT SESSION TO PROCEED ON SCHEDULE. WE BELIEVE THAT JUMBLATT MIGHT BE WILLING NOW TO REACH SOME COMPROMISE WITH SYRIA BECAUSE OF INTERNAL WEAKNESSES IN HIS POSITION. THERE HAVE BEEN SOME INDICATIONS THAT SECOND-ECHELON DRUZE AND PSP PARTY LEADERS CLOSE TO JUMBLATT HAVE BECOME DISENCHANTED WITH REPEATED DELAYS IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS, FOR WHICH JUMBLATT HIM- SELF BEARS A SHARE OF THE BLAME. SIMILARLY, ‘ARAFAT AND HIS FATAH COLLEAGUES ARE CHAFING UNDER PRESENT PRECARIOUS SITUATION WHICH THEY PROBABLY BELIEVE LEAVES JUMBLATT (AND HIS EVEN LESS RELIABLE LEFTIST COHORTS) WITH CONSIDERABLE LEEWAY TO REHEAT THE MILITARY SITUATION AND PULL THE PALESTINIANS BACK INTO A CONFLICT WHICH COULD THIS TIME INCLUDE THE SYRIANS.
3. WE WOULD EXPECT SOME INDICATION FRIDAY, MAY 7 OF WHETHER OR NOT PARLIAMENT WILL ATETEMPT TO MEET 8 MAY. GEN. AHDAB, SELF-ANNOUNCED MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LEBANON, HAS
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ANNOUNCED THE IMPOSITION OF A CURFEW IN A PROSCRIBED AREA AROUND THE VILLA (WHERE PARLIAMENT WILL ONCE AGAIN GATHER IN EXILE) EFFECTIVE AT 1400 HOURS LOCAL TODAY. PREPARATIONS THUS CON- TINUE FOR THE SESSION WHILE THE POLICOS DECIDE WHETHER TO ATTEND OR NOT. WE UNDERSTAND THAT MOST CHRISTIAN DEPUTIES AREPREPARED TO ATTEND, GIVEN MINIMAL SECURITY WHICH AT PRESENT EXISTS, BUT ALMOST NONE OF THE OTHER PARLIAMENTARIANS, INCLUDING THOSE CON- TROLLED BY JUMBLATT, HAVE YET CALLED THEIR SHOTS.
4. SINCE THE ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEE OF THE PARLIAMENT DECIDED TWO DAYS AGO THAT AMINIMUM OF 66 DEPUTIES MUST BE PRESENT BEFORE GAVEL FALLS, “INDEPENDENT” GROUPING LED BY SPEAKER ASSSAD PROBABLY CAN DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT SESSION COMES OFF. THIS GROUP, WHICH AS WE NOTED IN REFTEL, MAY BE COMING APART AS MEMBERS CHOOSE UP SIDES, HAS SLATED A MEETING FOR TODAY WHICH PROBABLY WILL GIVE AN INDICATION OF THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND. THERE STILL SEEMS TO BE SOME MOVEMENT WHITHIN THE UNCOMMITTED TOWARD SARKIS IP RESPONSE TO WHAT STIMULI WE CAN ONLYSPECULATE AT THE MOMENT, BUT CAMPAIGN POSTERS PROCLAIMING THAT “EDDE IS THE MAN” HAVE GONE UP OVERNIGHT IN SOME PARTS OF WEST BEIRUT. FOR ANALYTICAL PURPOSES, THEREFORE, PARLIAMENTARY MEMBERSHIP BREAKS DOWN INTO THREE BASIS GROUPS TODAY AS FAR AS WE CAN DETERMINE: PRO-SARKIS (LARGEST BUT NOT YET DETERMINANT); INDEPENDENTS (SECOND AND KEY); AND PRO-EDDE. PRECISE NUMBERS ARE ANYBODY’S GUESS BUT WE WOULD PLACE SARKIS VOTES IN HAND TODAY AT SLIGHTLY OVER 50 RPT 50 AND, THEREFORE SUFFICIENT FOR ELECTION ON SECOND BALLOT IF SESSION GOES AHEAD. ELECTION BY THIS SLIM MARGIN, HOWEVER, WOULD LEAVE THE NEW PRESIDENT IN A RELATIVELY WEAK POSITION AND FACING A DIVIDED ELECTORATE–NOT A HAPPY PROSPECT.
5. SECURITY SITUATION CONTINUED TO HOLD FAIRLY WELL IN BEIRUT WITH SOME EXCHANGES OF FIRE IN METN. LAST NIGHT, FURN ASH SHUBAK WAS HEAVILY SHELLED FROM DIRECTION OF RAS AN NABA ACCORDING TO LOCAL RESIDENT; THIS COULD BE WORK OF SPOILERS SUPPORTING “REJECTIONISTS”. PHALANGE SOURCES ALSO REPORT LIMITED GROUND ACTION (TWO PHALANGISTS KIA) IN VICINITY OF TAYOUNE CIRCLE, WHICH CONSTITUES ONE OF OUTER LIMITES OF SECURITY ZONE SURROUNDING PARLIAMENT SITE. ON OTHER HAND, SAME SOURCE IN AL HOUT STREET THAT TOLD US OF BATTLE OF THE GARBAGE TRUCKS TWO DAYS AGO REPORTS THAT TRUCKS THRUST INTO NEIGHBORHOOD THIS MORNING WITHOUT ENCOUNTERING ARMED RESISTENCE.
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 04 BEIRUT 04081 071338Z AIRPORT
ALSO ESCAPED SHELLING YESTERDAY AND THIS MORNING FOR FIRST TIME IN SEVERAL DAYS.
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