Guatemala reported eradicating more than $300 million worth of heroin poppy crops this week in San Marcos province, which borders on Mexico, in an indication of the growing value of this crop to the country’s traffickers.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said that 2.4 billion quetzales ($308 million) of poppy was destroyed in the municipalities of Tajumulco and Ixchiguan, reports Prensa Libre.
The 800 agents involved in the operation, which took place between Monday and Wednesday, also eradicated more than Q80 million ($10 million) of marijuana plants.
The minister said that the government had destroyed drug crops worth more than $1.3 billion so far in 2012.
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The US State Department says that Guatemala is a minor, but growing, producer and exporter of opium poppy, estimating that it has more than 1,000 hectares under cultivation. It is now thought to be the second biggest poppy producer in the region, with Mexico in first place and Colombia in third.
Guatemala’s eradication of the plant increased more than three-fold over the last few years, up from 489 hectares in 2005 to 1,490 in just the first nine months of 2011. As InSight Crime has pointed out, this rise in eradication is likely a sign that more poppy is being grown, not that the government is getting better at removing it.
San Marcos is the location of most of the country’s poppy production, and was the stronghold of Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez, alias “Juan Chamale,” who was known as Guatemala’s “heroin king” until his arrest in March last year. The poppy is usually shipped to Mexico for processing, using San Marcos’ loosely guarded sea ports and land border crossings, before being sent to the United States.