Guatemalan Armed Forces Help Eradicate Heroin-producing Plants
By Dialogo May 09, 2016
From February 14th-19th, Guatemala's Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies teamed up to eradicate more than 17 million poppy plants in 610 fields measuring 45 hectares. The crops could have produced more than $57 million in heroin, authorities said.
Many of the poppy fields were in remote locations, which is why the Armed Forces led the mission in cooperation with prosecutors, Drug Crimes Chief Prosecutor Aldo Chapas told Diálogo
. In addition to the poppy plants, Troops also destroyed 344,896 marijuana plants worth more than $18 million, according to data published by the Prosecutor’s Office and the National Defense Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Most of the heroin-producing poppy plants are cultivated in the “Poppy Triangle,”
which comprises the municipalities of Tejutla, Ixchiguán and Tajumulco in the department of San Marcos. The department’s elevation of 2,398 meters above sea level results in soil that produces a plant considered to be of high quality for heroin production. Authorities have found poppy plants bearing red, pink, and yellow flowers in the Poppy Triangle, according to Chapas.
The Armed Forces deployed 150 Soldiers, five specialists, eight junior officers and one senior officer from the Mountain Operations Brigade (BOM) for the mission, stated Army Cavalry Colonel Pedro Reyna Caro.
The eradication operation also included flyover experts from the Air Interdiction, Drug Enforcement and Counterterrorism Force (FIAAT), 500 agents from the Office of the Deputy Director General for the Analysis of Drug Enforcement Information (SGAIA) under the National Civil Police (PNC), and 10 prosecutors from the Prosecutor’s Office, according to statements SGAIA Deputy Director Yodzaida García made to the National News Agency.
In addition to assisting with personnel, the Army also provided security for prosecutors, in conjunction with the PNC. The security details were necessary because when authorities arrived at the eradication sites, operatives who allegedly worked for the crop owners fired shots and blocked the vehicles’ access to the site.
The Ministry of Defense also assisted by providing BOM facilities in San Marcos, the capital of the department of the same name, to use as a center of operations. Every day, the work teams – spread across the three municipalities where the operation took place – traveled to the work site before spending the night at the BOM facility.
In addition to eradicating poppy and marijuana plants, authorities have now initiated projects to benefit the community. The zone is an impoverished area, where narco-traffickers force farmers to grow poppy.
The Guatemalan and U.S. governments are cooperating to assist these populations. For example, the Guatemalan government and the U.S. Embassy provided school supplies in the three communities where authorities conducted this operation, according to Chapas.
Previous eradication efforts
In 2015, the National Defense Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported three eradication operations covering a total of 449 hectares and containing a total of 220,006,135 poppy plants, which would have been worth more than $711 million if they had been converted to heroin.
A security force with an average of 500 to 600 members, which included between 150 and 200 Military personnel, participated in each operation, according to a report issued by the National Defense Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Interagency efforts have led to more than the eradication of poppy and marijuana crops. The prosecutor’s Office for Drug Crimes reported that the Army also provided assistance for the seizure of 712 kilograms of cocaine and 465 pounds of processed marijuana between January 1st-March 31st.
Authorities have also seized 70 vehicles that allegedly were used to traffic drugs, plus an airplane, two boats and 54 firearms. In addition, they also confiscated more than $1.9 million collectively in cash, including quetzales, Mexican pesos, and U.S. dollars.