Guatemalan security forces continue to deal a heavy blow to transnational criminal groups that keep up poppy and marijuana cultivation in some municipalities bordering Mexico.
The Guatemalan Interior Ministry eradicated more than 9 million poppy plants and more than 2.5 million marijuana plants between January 1 and July 2, 2022, Guatemala’s state-owned news agency (AGN) reported.
The situation has been changing over time due to the presence of Mexican cartels that share distribution routes. In addition, due to their isolation, some of the communities affected have been feeling the effect of precarious economic growth, forcing families to dedicate themselves to illicit crop cultivation. This combination of factors makes inhabitants vulnerable.
“The Tajumulco and Ixchiguán areas are areas so far from the center of investment that it could be said that they are abandoned,” Nelson Cancinos, a lawyer and narcotrafficking expert at the San Carlos University of Guatemala, told Diálogo. “Without sources of employment or the injection of private capital interested in investing, it’s also complicated to tell the residents not to get involved in illegal crops.”
The Antinarcotics Information Analysis General Subdirectorate (SGAIA) of the National Civil Police eradicated 34,351 marijuana plants in the Totonicapán department and 78,025 marijuana plants in the municipality of Melchor de Mencos, Petén department, which fall within the areas in question, the SGAIA said on July 14.
On July 13, the Guatemalan Army also reported the eradication of 50,488 poppy plants carried out during the state of siege implemented since June 9 in Ixchiguán and Tajumulco, San Marcos department, to stop the violence organized armed groups have unleashed in the area. That same day, the SGAIA reported locating five poppy fields in the village of San Andrés alone, in Ixchiguán.
Former Guatemalan Interior Minister and narcotrafficking and organized crime expert Francisco Rivas told Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre that the poppy grown in Guatemala “is taken to Mexico, where it is processed and then sent to the United States. These Mexican narcotrafficking groups are financing all this cultivation and local criminal groups with weapons for trafficking logistics.”
Cancinos agrees with the former minister and adds that there are areas and corridors where local narcotrafficking criminal groups not only receive money but are also paid with drugs, increasing local domestic consumption.
The National Assembly extended the state of siege in the region for another 30 days, Guatemala’s El Periódico reported on July 11. Cancinos believes that the measures implemented in Ixchiguán and Tajumulco should be complemented with stable services from other state institutions to provide comprehensive assistance to the inhabitants of these areas far from commercial cities.
“Police and military forces must be accompanied by the rest of the institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food, with short and medium term projects for the communities. In addition, they must give them credit for their crops, cattle rearing, in this case goats, and analyze if it is possible to change from monoculture to other types of crops or programs to facilitate plantations,” Cancinos said.
On June 27, the municipal authorities and community leaders of Ixchiguán and Tajumulco signed 16 agreements that will allow them to implement an equal number of projects, including the construction and improvement of streets, expansion of primary schools, and construction of two basic educational institutes, AGN reported.