GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan security forces exceeded original expectations for the anti-drug operation they launched Aug. 28 in five municipalities on the Mexican border, an official announced.
Chief of the National Civil Police (PNC), Henry López, one of the operation’s organizers, told reporters that “we were able to eradicate 15 million opium-poppy plants,”many more than the 10 million plants that information from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said existed in that region.
Besides the destruction of the poppy plants, López said that some 20 people were arrested in the operation, including Cornelio Chilel, considered one of the top drug-traffickers in the region.
“We also confiscated some 5,000 marijuana plants, two kilos of cocaine and three kilos of cured marijuana, along with high-caliber firearms,” the police chief said.
López said that “we have surpassed the expectations we had at the outset of the operation and we think by the time we have finished we will have destroyed some 25 million poppy plants.”
According to the Ministry of the Interior, poppies cultivated in this country are sent to Mexico for the extraction of pure opium, the raw material for making heroin, which is then trafficked to the United States.
The administration of President Oscar Berger last week decreed a “state of prevention” and suspended several constitutional guarantees in five municipalities of the western province of San Marcos to clear the way for the large-scale operation against drug trafficking.
The state of emergency applies to the municipalities of Concepcion Tutuapa, Ixchiguan, San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Tajumulco and Tejutla, where some 1,800 hectares of poppy were thought to be cultivated.
The emergency decree limits constitutional guarantees for residents of the targeted communities, including the right to public assembly, the right to bear firearms and the right to travel freely. It also includes censorship, banning local media from publishing or airing reports on the police operation “that could stir the inhabitants to opposition.”
In another operation Aug. 5, security forces confiscated 50 kilos of cocaine and arrested three Guatemalans presumed to be drug traffickers on the south side of the capital.
According to data from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, this country is the world’s sixth biggest producer of opium paste for making morphine and heroin.
In San Marcos, 61% of the 880,000 inhabitants live in extreme poverty, but some local farmers who previously earned $530 every six months now earn $6,000 in the same length of time growing poppies, according to Guatemalan anti-narcotics officials.