It was surely just a matter of time before opium poppy production spread from the mountains of Guerrero into those of neighboring Oaxaca.
This week, the Army came under attack on two occasions as soldiers entered the western Oaxaca region to scout for and destroy poppy plantations, where reports of such plantations have become more frequent in recent months.
Oaxaca’s attraction — like Guerrero it too has remote mountainous regions with little in the way of economic activity — has likely grown due to the Army’s presence in Guerrero and the countless territorial confrontations among crime gangs, pushing opium poppy cultivation eastward.
Conditions are attractive for criminal groups, who hire the farmers in the local communities to grow the poppies for them.
Among them are those in the Triqui region, historically a poor part of the state, where citizens have embraced poppy cultivation. There are reports of plantations — of which a total of 47 have been identified — that are larger than 15 hectares whereas in Guerrero they rarely surpass a single hectare.
In response the Army has increased its poppy-eradication incursions into the area, where this week the locals let them know how they felt about it.
On Monday, a helicopter came under fire, sustaining damages to the fuselage, while it was surveying terrain in the municipality of Constancia del Rosario near the Guerrero border.
In another incident, about 100 military personnel attempted to reach poppy plantations by land only to find access roads blocked by 300 men, women and children armed with machetes and sticks. In the distance, said the Army’s General Alfonso Duarte Múgica this week, soldiers could see the poppies growing.
The situation is delicate because Oaxaca’s indigenous communities are highly protective of their territories and their rights, and military action runs the risk of creating a major public relations problem.
Múgica said the armed forces under his command “fully respect and identify with the customs and traditions of all the peoples of Oaxaca . . . .”
But the Triqui’s political factions, who have a long history of internal conflicts that have killed dozens of people over the years, have decried the incursion of the armed forces and the “militarization of the indigenous territories of the country,” insisting that they are growing only corn.
One of those groups, known as MULT, demanded the full withdrawal of the Army.
“Now the Mexican Army has arrived on the pretext of looking for poppy plantations. They made incursions all week on to our territory, finding only corn and then more corn,” said the group in a statement.
“Out with the Army from the Triqui region! No to the militarization of the indigenous territories of the country!”
Although not located within the Triqui territory, the municipality of Santiago Textitlán was the focus of the Army last month, where it destroyed 192 tonnes of poppy plants that had been found on 14 hectares.
Soldiers destroyed 707 hectares of poppy and marijuana plantations — mostly poppies — in Oaxaca last year, General Múgica confirmed this week.