HomeNewsAnalysisGuatemala Communities Clash Over Opium Crops Allegedly Tied to Mexico Cartels
ANALYSIS

Guatemala Communities Clash Over Opium Crops Allegedly Tied to Mexico Cartels

GUATEMALA / 15 MAY 2017 BY TRISTAN CLAVEL EN

Guatemala has declared a state of emergency in a border area where two local communities employed by rival Mexican cartels are fighting over poppy cultivation, a local conflict that is just one battle in a regional war for the heroin market.

Guatemala's government declared a "state of siege" on May 11 in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico, after an outbreak of violence between the inhabitants of both municipalities and security forces. According to a May 11 Interior Ministry press release, the state of emergency will be in effect for thirty days.

Interior Minister Francisco Rivas argued that the measure was necessary to disarm civilians in the area and restore the authorities' control, after the failure of more than a year of discussions with the belligerent parties, Prensa Libre reported.

For decades, the area has been subject to conflict between the communities of the two municipalities, initially over issues of land control and access to water. But levels of violence have spiked more recently, reportedly due in part to a fight for control of drug crops. According to both Prensa Libre and elPeriódico, the area is used for the cultivation of opium poppy, the base crop for making heroin.

This could explain why civilians appear prepared to protect their land with military-grade firepower. A video released recently by the Defense Ministry shows a shootout between soldiers and local inhabitants who seem heavily-armed. And authorities seized M-16, AK-47, and AR-15 assault rifles during a massive March police deployment.

Based on local testimonies, elPeriódico reports that the inhabitants of Tajumulco work for the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG), while in neighboring Ixchiguán the opium poppy is destined for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Armed confrontation between Guatemalan soldiers and locals in Tajumulco and Ixchiguán (courtesy of Prensa Libre)

InSight Crime Analysis

Guatemala has long served as the backyard of Mexican cartels. The Central American nation, an important transit area for South American cocaine heading north to the US market, was a strategic point for the Zetas, a Mexican crime group that succeeded in taking control of large swathes of Guatemala's drug trade until their decline after 2012. The Sinaloa Cartel, meanwhile, has long had an established presence in Guatemala where it likely remains the main buyer of drugs transiting through the country.

SEE ALSO: The Zetas in Guatemala

Meanwhile, Guatemala's opium poppy cultivation -- though difficult to estimate -- remains a concern for authorities. The latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report from the US State Department notes that Guatemalan authorities recently began employing a new methodology to estimate opium poppy cultivation. The report states that the estimate using the new methodology showed a "dramatic increase over past estimates," but that "no independent data to support or refute this estimate."

In recent years, the Guatemalan government has attempted to tackle the opium issue through various measures, from forced eradication campaigns to crop substitution programs. However, authorities have struggled to control cultivation in the San Marcos department, the country's traditional poppy hub.

Additionally, reports that the communities of Ixchiguán and Tajumulco are engaged in a proxy war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG illustrate the effect of shifts in Mexico's underworld on criminal dynamics beyond Mexico's borders.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Heroin

The CJNG has had a rapid rise to power in recent years, and the group is reportedly established in more Mexican states than the Sinaloa Cartel. In addition, various reports have pointed to territorial conflicts and power struggles between the two drug trafficking groups throughout Mexico.

With specific regard to the heroin trade, the US Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2016 that the CJNG (which is currently expanding its trafficking operations in the United States) and the Sinaloa Cartel are wrestling for control of the growing US heroin market.

Heroin overdoses, one indicator of overall consumption, have tripled within a decade in the United States, and opioid addiction is now routinely described as an "epidemic" in the United States. The booming demand for heroin has been blamed on massive over-prescription of legal opioid drugs linked to aggressive lobbying -- and allegedly criminal behavior -- by the US pharmaceutical industry.

Given this regional context, the conflict in Guatemala's San Marcos department appears to be just one battle in larger war for control of a lucrative illicit industry.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 14 JAN 2014

Mexico’s state governments are failing to make use of federal funds to clean up the police, a telling example of…

CIACS / 15 DEC 2016

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself…

DRUG POLICY / 14 MAR 2013

In an interview with El Espectador, Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera explained Guatemala's plan to facilitate a "historic dialogue" for…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…

THE ORGANIZATION

Coverage of Fallen Paraguay Prosecutor Makes Headlines

20 MAY 2022

The murder of leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, while on honeymoon in Colombia, has drawn attention to the evolution of organized crime in Paraguay. While 17 people have been arrested…