A military helicopter flies over opium poppies in Chihuahua A military helicopter flies over opium poppies in Chihuahua. reforma

Among the poppies, a plea to the soldiers

'Heartbreaking' message asks soldiers to spare the crop

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)

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  • I’d feel more sympathetic if they were growing pot, not heroin.

    • jdwfinger

      I would be more sympathetic if they were growing corn or wheat.

      • You’re right, of course. I was just sticking with the drug theme.

  • Mike

    I see both sides of the issue, but when 100 million people in Mexico know their government is not working in their best interests, you can’t expect people who are hungry to go without food or resources. If your going to pull their crops, pay them a stiipend.

    • David Nichols

      That would only encourage more planting…if they know the govt will pay them when they destroy the crop….how about instead, the govt. give the farmers subsidies for growing food crops, which are clearly needed…!

  • Commander Barkfeather

    The US government would feel more sympathetic if they were growing opioids.

  • W. Jones Jordan

    The DEA is waging a war on opium–an excellent analgesic and sedative–while allowing the pharmaceutical industry to produce and advertise semi-synthetic (and more powerful) derivatives of opium, including Oxytocin and Dilaudid.

  • Bugz

    US troops in Afghanistan physically stand guard (now for 16 years) over opium crops supplying 70% of the world’s opium supply, yet anyone or anything else that happens to compete is enslaved by prison systems for profit or given harsh penalties that follow them for life!!! US Pharmaceuticals being backed by the US military are the WORLD’S DRUG DEALERS making sky rocket high artificial profits off of natural property while banning private ownership from anyone else — sounds a lot like Marxism and central planners of property supporting fascist Big Pharma business agents!

  • Doña Barola

    This is a complex issue with valid arguments on all sides that goes deep into the core of Mexican politics. I know I would feel more sympathy for the colonels angst if he (and Mexico) were actually doing something about the poverty – such as provide education, job training and economic stimulus programs for marginalized parts of Mexico. Instead of sending armies and police to these areas wouldn’t it be better to send legions of infrastructure projects?
    AMLO has proposed such a stimulus program for the northern most states in his election platform. While laudable, unfortunately his platform only does what all past governments have done – focused his platform on the wealthy North while throwing mere baubles to the South (his Yucatan tourist railway). This division of the spoils is the rift that continues to divide Mexico. Like all politicians before him, he too is signalling status quo by ignoring the needs of farmers, such as this one, who need stimulus programs the most. Most such farmers only sees drug crops as a better paying cash crop than corn….I am not saying they are right to grow them, I am just asking what other options do they have? I realize the border states are a necessary supply line for Mexico’s northern neighbour, but Mexico remains short sighted about the advantages of developing healthy economies in ALL parts of Mexico. This has many unforeseen benefits, not only by reducing poverty and the need to choose to grow drugs over corn. It may actually help them reduce their dependence on the USA for economic stability.