The first-of-its-kind discovery of a coca farm in Guatemala may be a sign that drug trafficking groups looking to cut risks and transport costs could be expanding experiments growing drug crops in Central America, a region that has traditionally been used to transit rather than produce drugs.
On May 26, Guatemala’s National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil de Guatemala – PNC) announced the discovery and destruction of almost one hectare of coca that had been sown between coffee plants, calling it the first-ever evidence of cocaine production in the country.
The crops were found in a mountainous region six hours by foot from the central city of Cobán, which is the capital of the department of Alta Verapaz.
A small laboratory was also found near the coca farm. It contained materials commonly used for turning coca leaves into cocaine base, such as gasoline, cement and acid.
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The discovery of coca farms in Central America seems to be growing more frequent. In Honduras, for example, authorities recently found a 14-hectare field of coca, and a year before that they found another 8-hectare farm.
Honduran authorities explained the phenomenon as an “experiment” in which Colombian criminal groups could be testing the conditions of the country to begin cultivating and processing coca leaves closer to the United States to reduce the risk and subsequent costs of seizure.
It is possible that the same is happening in Guatemala, above all because the farm and laboratory do not seem to have been sophisticated enough for large-scale production. Furthermore, they were located in an area with the perfect conditions for testing because it had already been controlled by organized crime in the past and had little government presence.
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“What’s interesting [about this news] is the location where the farm was found,” Walter Menchú, an analyst with the Guatemalan Center for National Economic Research (Centro de Investigaciones Económicas Nacionales de Guatemala – CIEN), told InSight Crime.
“When the Zetas moved into Guatemala in 2008, Cobán was one of their centers of operation … And Alta Verapaz is located on one of the drug trafficking corridors that passes through Guatemala,” he added.