Luz del Carmen Sosa
El Diario. 7-30-2012. Namiquipa, Chih. Drug traffickers in the State of Chihuahua plant marijuana even on federal lands. Cultivation of the drug on the fertile lands in some municipalities goes unpunished because it is too difficult for the Federal Public Ministry (federal prosecutors) to locate the owners of the marijuana.
Drug traffickers find suitable areas for this activity via satellite and they choose sites that are close to streams to make sure they have water, especially in times of drought. When these plots are located by the Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR: Procuraduria General de la Republica) or the Department of Defense (Sedena: Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional)-- from the air-- there's no way to prosecute the owners of the property where the drugs are growing...the property belongs to the federal government.
"All we can do is initiate an investigation in the area to find out who is growing (marijuana) and try to locate the responsible parties," says PGR delegate Cesar Augusto Peniche Espejel during the destruction of the first plot found this season. The cost of the operation was not yet calculated. At least 20 federal officials participated in the operation, each with different duties, including the driver of the tank truck that transported the fuel and the two helicopter pilots.
How much marijuana was kept from reaching the market was impossible to determine. Peniche Espejel estimates that 80% of the national production (of marijuana) goes to the United States and 20% stays in the state. Securing and destroying two small plots on federal property demonstrates the capabilities of the drug trafficking industry in Chihuahua and the fight appears uneven. The federal agents must deal with human and technological shortages against the ever-more sophisticated organized crime infrastructure.
This operation was a success and the public servants celebrated. There are public officials who are trying to contain the production, planting and cultivation of drugs with limited resources and equipment, and they face internal contamination and criminal organizations that employ all their powers of corruption and violence to make sure their business succeeds, says Mexican journalist Jorge Luis Sierra.
This expert on matters of public safety and organized crime explains that these (eradication) efforts are overshadowed by the capacity of drug trafficking organizations to absorb the losses from eradication of the plots and still maintain a level of production that satisfies the demand in the U.S. and the domestic markets. According to U.S. authorities, Mexico seized six tons of cocaine in 2011, which is approximately 2% of the 300 tons of cocaine that go through Mexico bound for the United States.
"The same thing happens in the case of marijuana. Mexico seized 900 metric tons in 2011, but both countries estimate that this country has a much higher production capability. The most recent estimate was done in 2008 when the U.S. determined that Mexico had the potential to produce 21,000 metric tons of cannabis a year," he explains.
In search of the plotsThe oak and pine foliage protects the green marijuana plants. They cannot be easily seen from the air and only the experience in searching out plots that the team has, mostly made up of pilots with military training, allows the plants to be detected. These specialists guide their aircraft mostly over stream beds and arroyos, they know that the cultivated plots may be close by, and this time they were right on. On Friday morning they located almost four acres planted with marijuana.
In a canyon located about 20 miles northwest of Namiquipa Municipality, right on communal lands of Nuevo Delicias, they located the two plots. The next day, agents of the Federal Public Ministry and Federal Ministerial Police officers, led by PGR delegate Cesar Augusto Peniche Espejel, traveled to the site to verify the finding and destroy (the crop).
In the river, recent rains have created a strong current and both the local farmers and drug traffickers are taking advantage of the water.
"The natural availability of water helps cultivation. Trees have been cleared on this side of the property to level the ground to clear the land of vegetation," explains the official at the site.
It was not easy to get to this location. The team had to be transported by helicopter to get them to a place where there were rocks on the river bed. There, they crossed the river, then traveled for several minutes on foot. The people caring for the plot used horses to get there and it appears they fled by the same means.
The trunks of cut trees and pine trees could be seen on the ground. Others were (left standing) to protect the plants, four plants per square yard, and although some of the plants were quite small, some had grown to almost four feet.
"They don't clear all the trees because trees help camouflage the marijuana plants," adds the PGR delegate.
The primitive irrigation system can be seen among the plants. Hoses and plastic fittings allow river water to flow, in this case with a great deal of strength because the current was strong with the recent rains.
"Rains were delayed a month this year and our marijuana plots eradication program also follows the rainy season. In this case, the plants start growing thirty days after the first rains, and that's when we can identify the plantings," he says.
According to the federal eradication program, the PGR has 60 days to locate and destroy marijuana plots. "In the next 60 days we will locate other plots as the plants grow big enough, and, of course, there are places we haven't yet flown over where we're going to find taller plants,." he explains.
The boundaries of Namiquipa municipality contain some of the places used by drug traffickers to plant drugs. "We've located other areas in the state, and we will be locating the plots according to schedule. The important thing is to get there when they are this tall, because that won't give the traffickers an opportunity to re-plant the land. With 60 days (remaining), they can't get another crop in," he asserts.
The Army also takes part in the marijuana eradication program. That's why a joint effort is so important, because there are areas that are very difficult to access. That's where the Army comes in.
"All these eradication efforts, added to climate conditions, will inevitably increase their desperation and decrease their income, and that helps us because they will take more chances to get the drugs out and take them north," says the government official.