Guatemalan Army Destroys Coca Crops

Guatemalan Army Destroys Coca Crops

By Kay Valle/Diálogo
September 04, 2020

On June 25, Guatemalan Army personnel found coca crops and a lab in a hard-to-reach jungle area of Petén, Guatemala’s northernmost department, the Army said on Twitter. The discovery was made following a three-day patrol with about 200 troops of the Army’s First Infantry Brigade, with support from the National Civil Police’s Subdirectorate General for Analysis of Anti-Narcotic Information (SGAIA, in Spanish).

“This success was possible thanks to interagency work and military operations in the jungle, which led to the destruction of three crops of coca bushes, spread over 12 blocks [8.4 hectares], and a lab with alleged precursors and utensils that could be used to process the drug,” Guatemalan Army Colonel Juan Carlos De Paz Arredondo, press director at the Ministry of Defense, told Diálogo. “It’s important to note that the plants in these fields are estimated to have been planted at least three years ago, based on their height.”

A unit of the Guatemalan Army walks around a narco-lab found near three coca plantations in Petén department. (Photo: Guatemalan Ministry of Defense)

In September 2019, when the first coca crops were found in the country, in a mountainous area of El Estor municipality, Izabal department, the previous Guatemalan Minister of Governance Enrique Degenhart said that Guatemala had moved from being only a drug-transit country to being a cocaine producer, Voice of America reported. Before that, coca crops were grown almost exclusively in the eastern hillside of the Andes or in the high plateaus of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, news agency Reuters reported.

In its 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the U.S. Department of State indicated that Guatemala is one of the main countries to transit drugs toward the United States. According to the report, Guatemalan authorities have had success with maritime interdictions in 2019, adding that narcotraffickers have tried to recover their losses through air shipments. However, the report points out that the discoveries of coca labs and crops in late 2019 indicate that traffickers are seeking to set up production capabilities in the country.

Between January 1 and June 2, 2020, according to information the Ministry of the Interior provided to Diálogo, SGAIA, and the Armed Forces have found and eradicated 207,000 coca plants, “which definitely means a heavy blow to structures that engage in narcotrafficking and related crimes,” the Ministry said in its statement.

According to Col. De Paz, “the coca plants we found could produce up to six harvests a year.” He added that in the same period, authorities found five narco-labs “capable of producing 30 kilograms of cocaine daily,” and destroyed 20 clandestine airstrips.