Living off poppies in Guerrero

The DEA says that 42% of the heroin sold in the United States is produced in Mexico, mainly in Guerrero.

Living off poppies in Guerrero
Javier Chino Nieves, 15, hasn't attended school since last Thursday because he was beaten by federal police for participating in a protest. (Photo: Vania Pigeonutt / EL UNIVERSAL)
English 05/05/2016 12:08 Vania Pigeonutt / corresponsal Actualizada 12:11
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The grower keeps in his memory the whole cycle that turns poppies into opium gum. He is 64 years old. Throughout his life, purple, white and pink flowers have grown and withered in his hometown, one of the 1,280 in the mountains of Guerrero that grow poppies.

Six years ago he started growing poppies again; previously he worked as a driver and was undocumented immigrant in Arizona. He used to plantpeach, corn and beans.

Things are not easy when you have 10 children to clothe and feed. If he is lucky he gets 13,000 pesos (US$730) every four months for each kilo of opium gum. Planting it costs at least 30% of that amount.

Arturo López Torres, sheriff of Filo de Caballos in Leonardo Bravo municipality, says that farmers grow poppies that are collected by people from other towns, while others process them and yet others sell the final product.

“No one plants more than one hectare because it is very expensive," López explained. “Moreover, it is dangerous, because Army helicopters can kill the crop and farmers end up indebted.”

The mountains of Guerrero include the communities of Eduardo Neri, Leonardo Bravo and Heliodoro Castillo; San Miguel Totolapan, Coyuca de Catalán, Pungarabato and Arcelia, as well as the municipalities of the region known as “Tierra Caliente”, Atoyac, Petatlán, Coyuca de Benítez, Zihuatanejo, La Unión and Tecpan de Galeana.

According to López, around 50,000 people in the region grow poppies. He says that many people would stop growing them if they were given support for other productive projects. 

“People grow (poppies) out of need, it is nothing new that the government ignores,” he added.

According to DEA figures, 42% of the heroin sold in the United States in 2015 was produced in Mexico, mainly in Guerrero.

Javier Chino Nieves, 15, hasn't attended school since last Thursday because he was beaten by federal police. He participated in a protest of farmers and haulers who blocked the Mexico-Acapulco highway to ask the government to stop killing their plantations. 71 people were arrested.

"If we had security we would have an eco-tourism area, we would grow avocado and peaches. The region has microclimates, so we could export roses and calla lilies or even raise trouts,” López said.


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