“And far and wide, in a scarlet tide, the poppy’s bonfire spread.” – Bayard Taylor
The words of 19th century American poet and literary critic Bayard Tylor ring true as the Mexican military goes about incinerating piles of poppies in full bloom in southern section of the Sierra Madre Mountains. As far as the eyes can see, the terrain is one wide scarlet sea of poppies. One of the most beautiful and delicate flowers, the poppy holds within its bosom one of the deadliest and most potent poisons—opium—dexterously transformed into an equally deadly fine white powder called heroin.
Helicopter fumigation, or spraying the fields of poppy with a chemical called Uproquat, is one of the most sought after means of destroying the produce, but it is associated with high risk of accidents. It also destroys the fruit and vegetable cultivation that the locals survive on. Therefore, the alternative practiced by the military is to uproot each opioid poppy plant with a swing of the machete and burn the crop. The scarlet flames and the accompanying cloud of smoke are visible for miles.
Mountains offering favorable opportunities for cultivation
The inaccessibility of the Sierra Madre Mountains is an advantage for drug traffickers whose business is flourishing. The climate is just perfect for cultivating poppy or opium. The tapped sap is borne in huge trucks and transported to labs, hidden in the mountains where it is processed into heroin in due course. The entire operation from the beginning to the end is carried out in the terrain itself.
The only thing marring the beauty of the mountains are the frequent crosses. These mark the sites where the hitmen of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman carried out the gruesome killings. The inhospitable terrain even to this day teems with “El Chapo” men in carrying forward his legacy ever since he got extradited and imprisoned. Additionally, there could be 15 cartels currently operational in the area that fight for survival and profit.
Heroin trafficking on the rise
Earlier, the primary producers of opium were Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran and Pakistan. Mexico and Colombia are the new entrants in the business. According to a 2017 report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mexico is currently number three producer of opium. It is believed that Mexican heroin is purer and whiter than other varieties.
Heroin is a billion-dollar business in America. However, it is associated with high risk of abuse, overdose and addiction. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has constantly been urging the Mexican government to control heroin trafficking. In its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment, the DEA mentioned that Mexico’s opium accounted for 93 percent of heroin in American markets and that Mexico’s opium production increased threefold between 2013 and 2016 partly because the Mexican government had not done enough to stem the production. In response, the Mexican army destroyed nearly 200,000 plots of poppy in 2017, which was up by 22 percent from the previous year.
Of importance is the Merida Initiative between America and Mexico for fighting organized crime, much of which can be attributed to the cartels that are in total control of local people and corrupt politicians. The U.S. had designated $2.5 billion to the Merida Initiative since it began in 2008. Unfortunately, as the report by the Congressional Research Service suggests, the Mexican government has been slack, “Drug eradication and alternative development programs have not been a focus of the Merida Initiative even though Mexico is a major producer of opium poppy.”
As America ups it fight against the cartels urging Mexico to take stringent measures, it becomes imperative for all to come together and fight the scourge of drug abuse.
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