Ecuador’s Poppy Find Points to Growing Heroin Production

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Ecuador destroyed some 411,000 poppy plants in a central province, in another indication that heroin production could be on the rise in the Andean country.

The armed forces announced Tuesday that the poppy incineration was the result of joint military and police operations in Chimborazo, central Ecuador.

The illicit plants were systematically placed among legal crops, a planting technique that signaled to authorities that the poppies were not weeds, as members of the community had claimed.

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The find of poppy crops is rare in Ecuador, which is not a significant heroin producer. The UN has said that poppy cultivation in the county is in its infancy, but recent discoveries indicate that the crop may be blossoming in the Ecuadorean Andes. A poppy field was discovered in the central province of Cotopaxi in November 2011, while on March 23, the authorities destroyed 120,000 opium poppy plants, also in Chimborazo.

According to the US State Department’s 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Ecuador eradicated 22,149 opium poppy plants in 2011 — less than 5 percent of the total amount eradicated in the two operations in Chimborazo.

The presence of drug trafficking gangs such as Colombia’s Rastrojos and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel in Ecuador may be contributing to an increase in domestic coca and poppy production. The country’s anti-drug chief, Nelson Villegas, reports that Ecuador has seized about 12 tons of narcotics since January. This year is shaping up to see far higher drug seizures than the last two years; 26 tons were seized in 2011, and 18 tons in 2010.

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