Mexico's army announced that it had located the country's first known coca plantation, suggesting that Mexican traffickers could be seeking to produce cocaine at home -- a potential game changer for the drug industry.
On September 9, members of the Mexican army and border police found and destroyed 1,639 coca plants located on a plot of approximately 1,250 square meters in Tuxtla Chico, in Chiapas state near the Guatemalan border, reported Reforma.
"We have information that this is the first plantation that has been located at a national level of this type of plant," Sergio Ernesto Martinez Rescalvo, the commander of the 36th Military Zone located in Tapachula, told Reforma.
The discovery followed the seizure a week earlier of coca leaf and plants at a nearby residence, where three suspects were detained, reported Reforma.
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If the commander's statement is accurate, the discovery could indicate a strategic shift on the part of Mexican traffickers.
Chiapas state is territory of the Zetas drug gang, which also has a strong presence in neighboring Guatemala and controls drug routes up the Gulf Coast. It is plausible that either the Zetas or another group could be testing the water to see whether growing coca at home is a viable option.
SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profiles
Virtually the entire world cocaine output comes from coca crops in the South American Andean countries of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Coca is generally grown on mountain slopes, but there has been increased coca cultivation in recent years in low-lying jungle regions such as Peru's Amazon. Coca plants produce the most cocaine at between 1,000 and 1,200 meters altitude, but they can grow successfully at sea level, given the right conditions -- warmth, good drainage, and lots of water. Tuxtla Chico, where the crop was found, sits around 320 meters above sea level.
There is nothing in theory to prevent Mexican groups cultivating coca in the tropical climate of Chiapas. A successful shift to coca production within Mexico would up-end the Mexican drug trade, which is built around the process of moving cocaine from South America to North America. If Mexico had substantial coca crops, Mexican traffickers could cut out their South American suppliers and Central American middle men, vastly reducing their costs.
Some have argued that Colombian traffickers made a similar strategic decision back in the 1970s to cultivate coca domestically so that they would not have to rely on crops from Peru and Bolivia.
It is unlikely that such a drastic shift will happen anytime soon, however. The Andes has a long tradition of coca farming, fueled by government absence and excluded populations. Nonetheless, the potential gain to Mexican traffickers means that any coca crops in the country are worth watching.