Fifteen kilometers from the municipality of Guachochi, in the heart of the mountain range known as the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, 30 soldiers pull opium poppy plants out of the ground with their bare hands.
For the past month, the military personnel have lived in an encampment set deep in a pine forest where, day after day, they wait for radio messages telling them the coordinates of illegal poppy plantations that have been detected by M2 helicopters, nicknamed mosquitoes.
But while uprooting poppies at the plantation in the southwest of the northern border state on Wednesday, they didn’t only find bulbs ready to be opened to have their opium gum extracted.
Among the poppies, they also found a handwritten note.
In the past soldiers have seen ominous messages left next to slain bodies by cartel members, but this note wasn’t a threat: it was a lament and a plea.
“Please, don’t destroy them,” read the misspelled message, scrawled on a crumpled sheet of paper torn from a notebook.
“I don’t even have any [money] to eat and my daughters don’t have shoes.”
For the soldiers, it was a stark reminder that the people who cultivate the illegal crops are often impoverished, indigenous farmers simply looking for a way to survive.
Colonel Vicente Javier Mandujano, who is in charge of poppy eradication efforts in Guachochi and 13 other municipalities in the south of Chihuahua, said that coming across messages of that type is an emotional experience.
“They’re the kinds of things that break your heart,” he said.
However, he believes their efforts and the sacrifices are worth it.
“It’s for the good of Mexico, so that this drug doesn’t get to young people,” he said.
Lieutenant Luis Enrique Trujillo, the commander of the unit that carried out the mission, agrees.
“We’re doing a good deed for Mexico,” he explained while an enormous improvised bonfire built to destroy the uprooted poppy plants burned behind him.
According to Army General Martín Salvador Morfín Ruiz, who oversees eradication efforts across the entire southern region of Chihuahua, significant progress is being made.
This year alone, 17,000 poppy plantations have been eradicated in 41 southern Chihuahua municipalities, he said.
Morfín added that eradication of the cash crop represents losses to drug traffickers in the billions of pesos as one hectare of poppies can produce 11 kilograms of opium and one kilogram of heroin.
While heroin use is low in Mexico, demand is high in the United States and thousands of overdoses per year are attributed to the drug. Trafficking of heroin across the northern border has become a central issue between the two countries.
In bilateral security talks last week between the United States ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, and the director of the Center for Investigation and National Security (Cisen), Eugenio Imaz, combating the cultivation of poppies and the production of heroin was a key aspect of their discussions.
Mexico is the world’s third largest producer of the opium poppy, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and cultivation is concentrated in the mountains of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango — a region known as the Golden Triangle — as well as in the southern state of Guerrero.
Source: Reforma (sp)