The Guatemalan military will deploy a special brigade to its northwestern border with Mexico, dedicated to combating the poppy trade, a new stage in Guatemala’s efforts to limit the production of the raw material for heroin.
The newly created Mountain Special Operations Brigade will be based in Guatemala’s San Marcos province, the epicenter of the country’s opium poppy trade. As Mexican newspaper El Universal reports, the military unit will focus on the historic poppy growing area in San Marcos, an area made up of three municipalities which the government calls the “Triangle.”
According to estimates by the US State Department, Guatemala may have had some 1,000 hectares of poppy under cultivation in 2011. It is the second-biggest producer of the crop in the region, with Mexico in first place and Colombia in third.
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The newly active military unit in San Marcos follows the gradual withdrawal of police from nearly the entire province, as Guatemala seeks to boost the military’s role in the fight against organized crime. The military has steadily increased its presence in Guatemala’s most conflicted provinces, including the northern border region of Peten, where controversial special forces unit, known as the Kaibiles, were deployed in mid-2012. El Universal notes that alongside the establishment of the Mountain Brigade, 2013 will also see the creation of a new naval unit based in Guatemala’s most important Caribbean seaport, Puerto Barrios. The naval unit is meant to confront maritime drug trafficking near Guatemala’s southern border with Honduras.
The deployment of a new brigade to San Marcos should therefore be seen as part of this broader effort to expand the military’s presence in the areas most troubled by drug trafficking and crime. These efforts include the creation of three new military bases in crime hotspots, including San Marcos, Peten, and Puerto Barrios. The army has reportedly budgeted some $50 million for the creation of these bases.