It was last fall that the Mexican Army discovered that women in impoverished areas of the state of Durango had turned to growing marijuana as a means of earning a living and now it appears to be a trend that is on the rise.
Last October, Army elements deployed to eradicate drug plantations discovered that many women in the El Mezquital municipality — one of the poorest in the state — were cultivating crops by the roadside or in their own backyards.
Some defiantly confronted the soldiers when they threatened to take away their sole source of income.
It began with drug cartels hiring homemakers to grow the illegal crops, providing them with seeds and supplies such as irrigation equipment to optimize their production.
The mayor of El Mezquital has declared that women have had to resort to the illicit activity given the extreme poverty in which they live.
“Our fellow indigenous people seek any means of surviving . . . there are families that only have one meal a day,” said Ramiro Mendoza Solís, adding that he, too, was indigenous: “I come from families that have suffered and have overcome, no matter what.”
Mendoza believes the women in places like El Mezquital have only two options: grow weed or starve to death.
“Regrettably, there are families whose hunger pushes them into these activities, not because they like it, but out of necessity.”
He said his administration would provide counseling to the families “to keep them from getting into trouble.”
The president of the non-governmental organization Fundación Semilla agreed with Mayor Mendoza.
Janette Payán Bustamante said women from El Mezquital find themselves between a rock and a hard place. If they refuse to collaborate with the drug cartels they run the added risk of losing their homes and being displaced from their communities “in the best-case scenario.”
“The problem of narcos has been escalating,” she added, and as long as the issue of poverty in their communities is not directly addressed, “the problem will persist.”
The president of the Inter-American Organization of City Councils emphasized that such activities should not be allowed to become normal or considered as a viable livelihood.
Carlos Güereca Prado added that public policies should be changing the mentality of indigenous communities that consider crops such as marijuana as part of their customs and traditions.