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Mexican army faces uphill battle against opium poppies

  1. perro-salchicha614
    Sierra Madre Occidental (Mexico) (AFP) - The soldiers ripped the opium poppies with their hands and tossed them in four bonfires, clearing a hill in Mexico's lush northwestern mountains in less than two hours. But their work in the heart of the country's "Golden Triangle," a tri-state region of heroin and marijuana production, was far from over.

    After the troops destroyed the 0.5-hectare (1.2-acre) field on Thursday, Lieutenant Juan Pablo Hernandez Zempoaltecatl pointed to another one on a steep hill past a row of pine trees, and more down the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. His 18-man unit has destroyed 39 fields amounting to 15 hectares since they set up camp two weeks ago following a day-and-a-half trek up hills infested with snakes and venomous spiders.

    Hernandez estimates that his unit faces 20 more days of grueling work to clear the remote area while spending chilly nights in small tents in the wild. But once they've destroyed all the bulbs, Hernandez expects farmers to quickly plant new seeds to replace what they just lost. It takes only three months for poppies to grow.

    "It's tiresome to see so many poppies every day," the fresh-faced, 24-year-old commander said as he trekked back toward the unit's tent camp.

    As Mexico marks 10 years since the government deployed troops to crack down on drug cartels, the army faces an uphill battle in its four-decade-old struggle to eradicate a growing opium poppy production. The poppies are grown by local farmers, who extract opium gum from bulbs and sell it to gangs such as the Sinaloa drug cartel, which transforms the raw material into heroin.

    "Every time we destroy a field ... the locals come back to plant after our personnel has left the area," said Colonel Cipriano Cruz Quiroz, chief of staff of a special narcotics eradication unit based in Badiraguato, Sinaloa state.

    "They don't see us in a good light but they tolerate us. They have their work and we have ours. They plant and we destroy," said Cruz, whose base is in the hometown of imprisoned Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

    'Market day'

    Opium poppies are mostly grown in the southern state of Guerrero and the Golden Triangle -- which straddles the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua. Farmers in the Golden Triangle started to grow more poppies than marijuana since several US states began to legalize pot consumption in 2012, Cruz said.

    Cartels used to pay the farmers around $60 per kilo of marijuana, but the price has now dropped by half, he said. The price of a kilo of opium gum has jumped from around $980-$1200 to $1,765. The half-hectare field destroyed by Hernandez's unit could have produced half a kilo of brownish gum, enough to make three kilos of heroin.

    The farmers slice the bulbs with a razor blade, allowing the sticky gum to trickle out overnight to be collected the next day. The raw material is then sold in a sort of "market day," Cruz said.

    In June, Mexico's government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the first estimate of opium poppy cultivation, with aerial and satellite images finding 24,800 hectares across Mexico between 2014-2015. A second analysis is underway to make a year-on-year comparison.

    But army figures show poppy eradication nationwide increased from 14,613 hectares in 2013 to 26,249 in 2015. It stood at 19,848 hectares in the first 11 months of this year. In the Golden Triangle, 9,078 hectares were destroyed in 2015 and 6,145 this year, far more than marijuana.

    A US Drug Enforcement Administration report says heroin seizures more than doubled to 2,524 kilos at the US-Mexico border between 2010-2015. The government has stepped up eradication efforts, increasing fumigation flights in the Golden Triangle to four missions in 2016, each lasting 20 to 25 days, compared to three operations last year.

    The region's special unit was created in July 2014 to focus solely on plant eradication. Reconnaissance flights or satellite images spot the fields. When fumigation flights are not available, soldiers do the work by hand. Small teams like the one led by Lieutenant Hernandez spend three months in the mountains looking for marijuana or opium poppies. They set up 10 tents between trees, braving chilly nights and spending the day destroying plants.

    Laurent Thomet
    Photocredit: AFP/Alfredo Estrella
    Yahoo Sports
    Originally published by AFP

    Author Bio

    Opium fiend, bon vivant, and all-around pain in the ass.

    Annoying others since 1982.


  1. John_bob
    Wow, I didn't think it was possible
  2. Diverboone
    The poppy growers need the help of the U S military. It seems where ever they go, poppy production grows.
  3. mess clean

    I think the first paragraph in the "Market Day" section says it all regarding the US war on drugs...the price of cannabis dropped, and so farmers stopped growing it, after a bunch of states legalized cannabis in 2012.

    Sorry for taking a point about cannabis out of an article entirely based on opium production in Mexico. :eek:

  4. perro-salchicha614
    I think that's a really good point, mess clean. As long as there's a black market for Mexican heroin in the US, farmers are going to keep growing poppies, regardless of how many soldiers they send to destroy the fields. Sending soldiers to destroy poppy fields without addressing underlying political and economic problems is like putting a band-aid on a hemorrhage.

    The real problem is the huge black market in the US, lack of rule of law in these parts of Mexico, and an underdeveloped economy. We can see the same thing in Afghanistan. It's a self-exacerbating cycle--political instability leads to a lack of investment in industry, which leaves people with few viable options besides producing drugs for the black markets in more developed countries.

    From the perspective of a Mexican or Afghan poppy farmer, what he's doing makes perfect sense. He can't go get a job working in an office or a store at the mall. Poppies don't require a bunch of expensive technology to harvest, just a large supply of cheap labor, which can be provided by his children.

    Military intervention isn't going to fix a problem that's economic and political.
  5. Diverboone
    U S military intervention seems to work in the favor of the poppy growers. Does anyone other than me find it awful curious why poppy production seems to always increase when the U S military becomes involved?
  6. mess clean
    ^^I'd generally agree with that, except for the case that (curiously) most US wars lately (Vietnam and on, with the exception of the Iraq wars) have been conducted in areas where the climate was appropriate, and opium poppy cultivation was already a long-standing tradition. The US army's presence may have increased it, but it was already there.

    In the case of Mexico, it's a pure case of supply and demand economics. When was Mexico ever known as a hotbed of opium production? Never. Until economics directed the farmers and cartels to participate. And, this increase occurred without US military intervention with a country we aren't even at war with.

    This increase has been so substantial that those who smuggle probably don't deal with Afghanistan at all anymore. Seems like Mexico is able to handle it, all on its own.
  7. Diverboone
    I do not have the statistics, but I'm quite sure they would reflect an increase in poppy cultivation in all the Countries the U S has waged war in, starting with Vietnam. This includes Countries where poppy cultivation has not been a long standing tradition, specifically Iraq.

    Mexico has never been known as a "hotbed" for poppy cultivation. But they are no strangers to the practice. During WW2 the U S sourced much of there opium needs from Mexico.
  8. mess clean
    Good points.

    I'd love to see the statistics. And I wasn't aware that Iraq had the appropriate climate to ramp up opium production.

    Anyway, you asked if anyone else thought it was curious that US military involvement seems to encourage opium production, and I gave you my opinion. Correlation does not prove causation.
  9. Alfa
    I wonder if marijuana legalization in the US has Mexican Cartels moving from marijuana to opium. After all Opium / Opiate legalization is unlikely, so opium seems a safe bet as an alternative while marijuana demand decreases now that the US legally produces their own marijuana.
  10. Diverboone
    Contrary to how the Mexican Cartels are portrayed in the American media (a group of ruthless murders), the Mexican Cartels are in a sense operated similar to any other fortune 500 company. I would assume most have diversified and expanded the number of products they have to offer.

    It only seems logical that many people and governments could stand to learn from the cartels. For almost the last 50 years there has been trillions spent in efforts to put them out of business. And what has been gained from these trillions spent? Drugs are just as available now as they were at the start, if not more available and the number of products offered has expanded. Prices have relatively remained the same, resisting the cost of inflation. And purity levels have increased.
  11. mess clean
    ^^Perhaps this is a better argument for an increase in opium production, rather than US military intervention.

    Besides, I love Mexican Coca-Cola (the one still found in glass bottles and has sugar, not high fructose corn syrup), and I fear that the supply will be interrupted if the US goes to war with Mexico.

    Heck, with Trump as president, you just might get to see your hypothesis in action...

  12. Diverboone
    Yes, yes, sugar might be a good investment. Sugar is a scrooge like no other drug we've seen to date. The burden it places upon society surpasses all illicit drug use combined. Sugar abuse has been directly related to fat people, and an ever growing number of fat kids.

    We must not shy away from what ever the cost is of ridding the world of this scrooge and lock up all the awful Sugar Pushers, who are pushing this vile stuff off on our children. We need to build a wall tall enough the sugar traffickers can not get over. We must wage a war against the Sugar Cartels working in Mexico. We should not rest until we have spent every penny we have to fight this epidemic.

    Vote for the prohibition of Sugar. Do it to protect our poor innocent children!

    Sorry that was a little off subject.
  13. mess clean
    Diverboone, yes, yes, I smell the sarcasm dripping off my screen.

    Yes, yes, your post was a little off topic. I forgive you though because 1/3 of my post was a useless one-liner, but that's the one you decided to focus on.

    Absolutely, you have sidestepped the meaning of my post...which was to point out that you made a very effective argument for a cartel's expansion by following a successful capitalist business model (without any military intervention), yes, yes.

    I grow bored of this. Your conspiracy-like opinion of the US military and opium production seems to mean a very lot to you. Or, maybe it's your opinion that the drug cartels operate like a Fortune 500 company? I forget what point you were trying to make, but I'll remember to keep my mouth shut next time you ask for an opinion.

  14. Alfa
    Geopolitics of drugs is a special interest of mine. It is amazing to read the data and conclusions of the United Nations drug experts in regards to the narco activities of US agencies.
  15. perro-salchicha614
    Can you post a link to this information?

    Production of high-value black market goods tends to occur in the absence of a stable political and economic infrastructure, and I believe that's what's happening in regions that produce illicit opium. The US has been undermining the political stability of Afghanistan for decades for reasons other than fomenting the heroin trade. It's a symptom of the problems in Afghanistan, not the cause. In Mexico, the cartels benefit from sheer geographical proximity to a huge black market for heroin. A lot of the heroin smuggled into the US by the cartels comes from Colombia, not Mexico.

    The soldiers in the photo and the story are Mexican, not American.

    On a side note, I really do wish the US would accept responsibility for the absolute mess it's made of other parts of the world, directly and indirectly.
  16. mess clean
    Thank you, perro. Your explanation is a much more logical and realistic claim than those being defended by others.

    I've already asked Diverboone once to provide statistics, now perro is asking Alfa for a link to statistics or information regarding this claim. I'd also like to request some solid evidence from Alfa, and ask again that Diverboone provide statistics.

    It sounds like a conspiracy theory, it smells like a conspiracy theory and it walks like one too. But with condescending posts from Diverboone, no statistics, and claims without sources to back it up from Alfa, I'm not just going to accept baseless claims.

    I'm not quite sure why Diverboone asking for opinions and me providing mine has blown up into this. Just post some sources, or quit defending this position and Diverboone, please, don't question or rudely shake a stick at my intelligence.

  17. Alfa
    The book 'The World Geopolitics of Drugs' is an absolute pleasure to read for those who have interest in this topic. Its full of referenced data that will astonish you and puts countries like the US, Afghanistan in a very different light. There is also a lot of interesting data about opium trade / wars as it combines a mass of research. The authors are considered leading experts on the matter and their many DrugStrat reports, books and published papers have been used as standard reference works by the United Nations. Alain Labrousse and Laurent Laniel are currently working for the EU.
    There is a newer version if you can read French.

    The World Geopolitics of Drugs, 1998/1999
    by A. Block (Adapter), Alain Labrousse (Editor), Laurent Laniel (Editor)
    Springer; 2001 edition (October 4, 2013)
  18. mess clean
    Thanks Alfa. Now we're getting somewhere.

    If an ebook version exists, I'll be downloading it to my Kindle later. If not, hopefully I can find a hard copy on Amazon.


    EDIT: Hmmm... Well, I did locate the ebook version of this book for my Kindle. However, its price is $198.55 for a 284-page book. Although I'd love to read it, it's simply out of my price range (for any reading material).

    I hope Diverboone has statistics to provide, which are more accessible to the common man.
  19. Diverboone
    I stated that I did not have the statistics, then your very next post you requested them. Now you're intent on demanding something that I have already stated I do not possess. And NO sarcasm was intended toward you, sorry that you felt that way. Sarcasm if any was meant would be toward the typical U S approach to prohibition.

    I in fact agree with correlation does not equal causation. Conspiracy theorist I'm not. I have been part of the U S military's anti-narcotics operations.

    My first post to this thread was fully intended to be sarcastic. By the graph below it would seem that the Mexican poppy cultivators could use the assistance of the U S military. If Afghanistan alone is providing 90% of the worlds heroin supply. Mexico's production has to be less than 10%, which would suggest they are no where near meeting the U S heroin demand.

    mess clean you should not wear your feelings on your shirt sleeve, you are not that important. And I'll state it again before you ask again. I do not have the statistics to back my opinion up. But if I did, I'm confident they would reflect an increase in poppy production where ever the U S wages war.
  20. mess clean
    How hostile.

    Let's not get things confused here.

    You did state that you didn't have the stats, but if you did you were SURE that they agreed with your stance. Then you requested input from others, wondering if anyone else felt the way you do. If that was a rhetorical question, you could have made that known very early on.

    I merely expressed a wish that I could see the statistics...any statistics...to support what you were saying. Also, saying you do not have the statistics does not mean that you are unable to acquire them at some point in the future. Sorry I assumed that you would be able to find something to support your stance.

    Regarding the sarcasm...please inform me how I was to know that your post was not a response to mine, when you quoted my entire post, and talked about sugar, while writing your sarcasm which was not directed at me? A little confusing. I hope you understand.

    And, please tell me in which post I wore my feelings on my shirt sleeve? Where did I say that I think I am "that important"? By the tone of your post, you seem quite annoyed and may perhaps be wearing your own feelings on your shirt sleeve. After all, you have stooped to the level of insults...I never insulted you and I do not appreciate being insulted. But don't worry, I'm not that important.

    Finally, I wouldn't dare ask you for statistics on this matter again, as you appear to be offended.

    I would like to thank you for your service to our country, however. It's people like you who keep our country safe.

    And thanks for the chart.

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