Authorities in Guatemala have eradicated 65 hectares of poppy despite fierce resistance from farmers, as the country struggles to tackle record amounts of opium poppy cultivation along the border with Mexico.
Members of the Guatemalan police and army first tried to launch an eradication campaign in the department of San Marcos on January 27, but were forced back after they were attacked by farmers armed with rocks, sticks and firebombs. Four police were injured in the assault.
On January 31, the security forces returned and successfully uprooted poppy plants that authorities says were worth over $94 million, reported EFE.
The new year campaign follows on from last year's eradication efforts, which according to the authorities, saw the destruction of 2,500 hectares of poppy-- capable of producing $3.2 billion worth of heroin, according to official estimates.
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While accurate estimates of the amount of poppy cultivated in Guatemala have often been hard to come by, all indications are cultivation is now reaching record levels.
In the early 1990s, Guatemala was one of the region's main poppy producer countries, reaching a peak of 2,500 hectares cultivated in 1991, according to the US State Department. However, an aerial eradication campaign during the early 90s supposedly reduced cultivation to less than 10 hectares hidden away in tiny mountainside plots.
Between 2000 and 2004, eradication efforts fell away to virtually nothing, reported elPeriodico. In the first year they began again, 489 hectares was eradicated, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), suggesting cultivation had rapidly bounced back. By 2011, the State Department was reporting that despite the eradication of 1,490 hectares of poppy, Guatemala was a net poppy producer of over 1,000 hectares.
The rise in eradication claimed by the government for 2013 is likely linked to increased efforts to tackle cultivation -- including the deployment of a specialist military brigade to San Marcos. However, it is highly unlikely they are eradicating the entire crop, suggesting cultivation now exceeds the highs seen in the 1990s.
Guatemalan poppy cultivation is almost entirely focused in the province of San Marcos, which borders Mexico in the south (see map below). The region has long been the fiefdom of Guatemalan traffickers with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, principally the Ortiz Lopez cartel, which was once headed by the notorious Juan Ortiz Lopez, alias "Juan Chamale," who was arrested in 2011.