Mexico- Outrage over dozens of arrests in the isolated highlands region of Mexico’s violence-plagued state of Guerrero, initially thought to be enforced disappearances, has re-sparked a debate on the legalization of poppy cultivation for medicinal purposes to help tackle serious insecurity and prevent an armed uprising in the highlands, where many depend on poppy production for their livelihoods.
Guerrero Governor Hector Astudillo has reiterated his proposal to pilot legally sanctioned poppy production, the Mexican daily newspaper El Universal reported on Wednesday. The comments come after a unique protest in the highland area of Chilpancingo last Thursday in which local poppy producers blocked a highway and clashed with riot police. 71 people detained currently remain in jail with bail set at over 20,000 Mexican pesos, or over US$1,000 per person.
Ricardo Castillo, director of the news organization Quadratin Guerrero, told teleSUR that the case is particularly interesting because the poppy growers launched the protest without specific motives, but later brought the demand for an end to poppy fumigation in the area to the forefront. “In this blockade by these people, at first there wasn’t a specific demand,” Castillo told teleSUR by phone from Guerrero. “But then some of the leaders said the demand they had was that (authorities) stop fumigating poppy crops and let them freely bring them down (from the highlands) in public transport, because that’s what they live off, it’s what they do.”
The bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Salvador Rangel Mendoza, backed Governor Astudillo’s medical poppy legalization proposal and called on state authorities to open a dialogue with organized crime groups to help get a hold on the runaway violence in Guerrero, local media reported on Wednesday. Mendoza argued that legally sanctioned medicinal poppy production, which would help support the livelihoods of farmers in the highlands, is essential to fighting insecurity because “if they are not helped, there could be an armed uprising.”
Family members initially believed that some 100 people were victims of enforced disappearance when security evicted the blockade. But according to Castillo, only one person, the leader of the protest, now remains unaccounted for, and it is thought that he is on the run as a fugitive. Although the poppy growers were not organized under any local social movements or civil society groups, discontent in the face of longstanding government neglect in the highlands is deep-seated.
“Historically, the highland region of Guerrero has been one of the most forgotten by the government,” said Castillo. “They almost don’t make any roads, don’t develop public services, there almost aren’t any hospitals or schools.” Given the isolation of underserved communities, the demands of movements in the highlands in general tend to focus on access to basic services and better employment opportunities for the region, Castillo explained.
But the government regards the poppy farmers – producers of a plant destined for the hands of powerful drug cartels – as part of criminal syndicates, making their protest easily susceptible to criminalization. Although authorities claim that all of the over 70 people detained were directly involved in the blockade, family members argue that some were indirectly implicated or may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So far only two people have been released, a minor with Down Syndrome and another person who was attending an event at the time of the protest, after it was verified that they did not participate in the blockade. The remaining 71 detainees can be released on bail or wait for a judge to resolve the case.
May 5, 2016
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