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Textual: análisis del medio rural latinoamericano

versión On-line ISSN 2395-9177versión impresa ISSN 0185-9439

Textual anál. medio rural latinoam.  no.71 Chapingo ene./jun. 2018 

Economics and public policies

The other red mountain: opium poppy cultivation in Guerrero

Pierre Gaussens1  * 

1Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Torre II de Humanidades 4º, 5º y 6º pisos, Circuito Interior, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán 04510, Ciudad de México


Guerrero is the first opium poppy grower in Mexico and represents one of the main areas of opium rubber in the world. The strategic relevance of this situation contrasts with the poverty of the analysis. Social sciences have given a marginal treatment to the matter of illicit crops, which is often restricted to normative prescriptions, going from criminology and criminal law, to the economy of ilegal markets. This article addresses the issue in its political dimension and, in a critical way, that is, against the official discourse of prohibition, “combating drug trafficking” or “fighting against drugs”, in order to study, on the other hand, the historical relations that link illegal drugs with policies in Mexico and, in particular, illicit crops with the main institution responsible for the eradication: the army. Therefore this is what we propose to do, from a research study carried out in Guerrero on opium poppy cultivation.

Keywords: Drug trafficking; opium poppy; eradication; army; Guerrero


El estado de Guerrero es el primer cultivador de amapola en México y representa una de las principales zonas productoras de goma de opio en el mundo. La relevancia estratégica de esta situación contrasta con la pobreza de su análisis. Las ciencias sociales han dado a la cuestión de los cultivos ilícitos un tratamiento marginal, el cual suele restringirse a prescripciones normativas y oscila desde la criminología y el derecho penal, hasta la economía de los mercados ilegales. Este artículo aborda el tema en su dimensión propiamente política y de manera crítica, es decir, en contra del discurso oficial del prohibicionismo, el “combate al narcotráfico” o la “lucha anti-drogas”, con el fin de poder indagar, en cambio, acerca de las relaciones históricas que unen el tráfico de las drogas ilegales con las políticas del Estado mexicano y, en particular, los cultivos ilícitos con la principal institución encargada de su erradicación: el ejército. Es lo que nos proponemos hacer, a partir de un trabajo de investigación realizado en Guerrero sobre el cultivo de la amapola.

Palabras Clave: Narcotráfico; amapola; erradicación; ejército; Guerrero


Opium poppy, flower of the counterinsurgency

After the electoral reform and the amnesty of the late seventies, which allow the opening of the national political system to the multiparty system, in the federal elections of 1979, the Partido Comunista Mexicano (Mexican politic party) got in Guerrero 5 % of the total of votes, becoming the second electoral strength of the entity. Its main leader, Mr. Othon Salazar, was elected as a federal representative. Likewise, in the local elections of the following year, in 1980, the Communists won the municipality of Alcozauca, municipality of Mountain region, where the said leader comes from (Sarmiento, 2010). For the first time in the history of Guerrero, a different party to the PRI gains access to the local government. In addition, this was not any party, but the one that had been historically criticized by the PRI regime. The name “Montaña Roja"1 (Red Mountain) was assigned to this regional landmark, since, “despite the attempts to alter the process, the Communists always managed to stay in the government of Alcozauca, and even extend their influence to the neighboring municipalities” (Flores & Canabal, 2002: 265 ). The Mountain of Guerrero was called Red Mountain because it was considered communist.

Today, we can continue calling this región like that, but not for the same reason, since the Communists left the municipal government for a long time. If the Mountain is still red, at present, it is due to the color of the poppy flower, or opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.), and due to the extension of this crop. So, why make a parallel between what would be both Red Mountains? In fact, beyond a simple contemporaneity, at first sight the two social processes to which they refer do not seem to be related to each other, on one side the local politics, on the other side drug cultivation. However, if we stop and deepen in the historical analysis, disturbing coincidences soon emerge, which make us think that these two Red Mountains, the communist and the “gomera",2 have much more in common than it seems. By structuring the two poles of a continuum, in reality, they represent the parts of the same story.

A first indication of this interrelation lies in the fact that, in Guerrero, the regions that had most characterized themselves by the historical strength of their social struggles are the same ones that currently hold the majority of the poppy crop. These are two regions in particular, which, as the name implies, are the most prominent in the state: on the western side, the region of the Sierra, between Costa Grande and Tierra Caliente, and, on the eastern side, the region of the Mountain, in the border with Puebla and Oaxaca. Within the popular history of Guerrero, the first one above all represents the bastion of the guerrilla of the seventies, while the second, as we said, is dyed with the red of the communist flag in the following decade. Because of its revolutionary tradition, both the Sierra and the Mountain suffer the onslaught of repression, the first in what is known as the Dirty War (Rangel, Sánchez, 2015) and the second with a militarization policy (Gutiérrez, 2000). In this sense, both have constituted regional fronts of struggle that for this very reason, have suffered the violence of the State. In both cases, the counterinsurgency policy was given by a special institution: the Mexican army.

Then, from the seventies, this Southern state was converted by means of the militarization into a laboratory in which counterinsurgency in Mexico was tested (Sierra, 2007). “A total of 14 military campaigns were implemented in Guerrero between 1968 and 1974. All of them based on the Low Intensity War strategy, defined by the United States as a key element of national security” (Oikión, 2007: 74 ) and designed as a result of the military defeat in Vietnam. As another example, for the single year of 1971, “the army had 24,000 soldiers concentrated in Guerrero, a third part of all the troops (FEMOSPP, 2004: 48). Two years later, the government’s strategy changed from a policy of counterinsurgency to a genocide policy (FEMOSPP, 2004: 69), and by 1973 forced disappearances became a state policy” (Orraca, 2012: 110). In addition to the systematic violations of human rights that this new type of war implies, it also includes the anti-narcotics struggle among its areas of operation. This is how, in Guerrero, there is a historical correlation between the initation of drug cultivation and massive military intervention, throughout the decades of the seventies and eighties. To return to the metaphor of a journalistic title, there is a meeting between “the lady in red and the men in green” (Padgett, 2015). This idyll begins in the Sierra de Atoyac, where the guerrilla of the Partido de los pobres (party of the Poor), headed by Lucio Cabañas, had operated. In effect, within the scenario of the Dirty War,

“It is well known the role played by the drug farmers José Isabel and Anacleto Ramos to locate and chase Lucio Cabañas by the army, on December 2, 1974. [...] Their support bases continued to suffer the siege, criminalization and violence of the Mexican army, at least until 1979. Paramilitary bodies participated in the siege against the guerrillas and in the subsequent stage of the counterinsurgency. Many of these paramilitaries came from the mountain peasant communities co-opted by the army, which had the task of keeping an eye on the population and fight any signs of resistance. In exchange for this, they were granted a license to carry arms and grow illicit crops in the vast and abrupt mountainous area of Guerrero. This is the starting point of the boom in Guerrero. The Sierra Madre del Sur, which is precisely where the guerrillas had their operations, is the region where these phenomena occurred with greater force “(Estrada, 2015: s.p).

A decade later, a similar process occurs in the Mountain region, taking into account that it was in response to the Red Mountain’s organizational processes “when the counterinsurgency tactics included the introduction of the poppy planting in the region, [ ...] justifying the permanence of the armed forces in the daily life of the inhabitants, and creating conditions aimed at detonating processes of social fragmentation” (Mora, 2013:180 ). In this way the cultivation of poppy in Guerrero was introduced, in a contradictory way, it spread out across the Sierra Madre del Sur at the same time as operations were destined to combat it. The rise of the poppy rubber corresponds to that of military interventions. Throughout these two decades, as in other regions, “the army is engaged in the fight against drug trafficking, but paradoxically the illegal economy is spreading across the state, especially in those depressed regions that provide certain conditions of security, that is, the Sierra and the Mountain. This appreciation provides some sustenance to the thesis that involves the army in the promotion of the cultivation of drugs” (Altuna, 2001: 97 ). From this perspective, opium poppy is the flower of the counterinsurgency.

Myths of drug trafficking

Talking about illicit crops leads us irretrievably to the issue of drug trafficking. If we rely on the idea that the anti-narcotics policy, today articulated around the “war on drug trafficking”, rather than promoting public health, seeks to justify the exercise of the strong hand of the State through militarism, then our analysis must go through the systematic deconstruction of the dominant discourse and the myths that sustain it, starting with the myths of the drug trafficker (Astorga, 1995), drug trafficking in Mexico (Resa, 2005 b ) and crime as representation (Escalante, 2012). It is for this reason that, from now on, we will use the term in Spanish tráfico de drogas (ilegales) 3 illegal drug trafficking and not the term “h”, or “narcotraficante” (drug dealer), much less “narco”, not for playing with words, but because of the analytical danger that currently (media) has come to represent the prefix “narco” (Gaussens, 2018).

This situation is not fortuitous, but is the product of a long and systematic propaganda media study. If today the word “narco” is in our heads is because first it was in the official speeches and appeared in the front pages of the newspapers. If today this word structures our daily conversations is because this word is repeated day by day on television and radio news. In this sense, the treatment of information given by the mass media in recent years has a lot to do with the omnipresence of the word “narco”.

“A bad archetype has been established, insistently reproduced by the media, and in addition, a domain of meaning has been created where the signifier “narco” Works as a lexical multiplier [...]. This linguistic multiplier exerts such a fhascination that those who fall under the spell no longer differentiate the designations based on the reality of verbal pyrotechnics“ (Astorga, 1995: 41).

The latter is distinctive of the current media discourse. Its multi-colored fires shine in the numerous declensions of the prefix “narco-“, which is not only restricted to narcotics, drug trafficking and those who manage it (the “narcos”), but now also ventures into the land of culture (“narco-video”, “narco-corrido” , “narco-novela”, “narco-party”), the technique (“narco-menudeo”, “narco-manta”, “narco-ruta”, “Narco-túnel”, “narco-fosa”), the economy (“narco-lavado”, “narco-dólar”, “narco-tienda”), politics (“narco-voto”, “narco-democracia”, “narco-campaña”) and the State (“narco-guerra”, “narco-imperio”, “narco-terrorismo”). However, the prefix contributes less to defining than to be defined. It is often closer to an insult than to a concept. It is part of the journalistic controversy and not to the scientific debate. “The prefix “narco” operates in a magical and addictive way in everyday language: use it with any word and what you said is understood” (Astorga, 2015: 215 ). A substitute for conservative thinking and a means of authentic mental colonization, the “narco” does not give an account of what really exists because of the fantasy side it entails.

In Mexico, the image of a new enemy for “national security” is constructed from the official discourse. With the change of century a discursive turn is being operated whose center is now occupied by the crossed figure of “drug trafficking” and “organized crime”. The issue of drug trafficking itself was nothing new within national politics, in the context of the US foreign policy of the 2000s, the translation and imposition of the agenda of the so-called “fight against terrorism and drug trafficking” again emphasizes this second issue, above all, from the PAN (Mexican politic party) administrations. From then on, a discourse centered on the construction of the archetype of an enemy, the “narco”, begins to be systematically produced by the State.

As a result of this ongoing work of propaganda, today there is a kind of standard knowledge, about the criminal phenomenon, based on a frank language to refer to the crisis of public security, in turn made of terms whose explanatory appearance only hide a profound ignorance. The latter make up a precarious mixture, from various sources, from popular and prison slang to business consultancies, military manuals and criminal procedures, through the journalistic notes of the “red chronicle” and public prosecutor pet words. There we find, in addition to the word “narco”, “cartel”, “jefe” (boss), “lugarteniente” (lieutenant), “operadores financieros” (financial operators), “sicarios” and “alcones”, “plaza”, “cuernos de chivo”, “cobro de piso” and “levantones” among others. In short, “is not really a language, or a genre of speech, but just a vocabulary or little more, but with enormous appeal, especially for the media. Because it allows to summarize, save details, ignore what is not known, and offer explanations for any audience” (Escalante, 2012: 57 ).

Faced with this situation, it is necessary to desacralize the dominant discourse, in order to annul the performative capacity of the “narco” and break with the function of depoliticization that fulfills this term, by understanding it as the Trojan horse of a permanent propaganda action. However, “the most difficult thing in sociology is to face the certainties of common sense, especially in a field where a highly complex social phenomenon is reduced to a simple struggle of good against bad” (Astorga, 1995: 13 ). Consequently, the present text faces the challenge of breaking with the first certainties, intrinsic to the label of “narco”, since the distancing that this necessary rupture fosters, in the beginning, has all appearances against it.

The reality of illegal drug trafficking in mexico

In addition to the dominant discourse that surrounds it, a second obstacle to understand the reality of drug trafficking lies in its measurement, because the official statistics on the subject leaves much to be desired, and may present serious deficiencies. In the first place, by the sanction of the illegality that makes the traffic an activity refractory to the publicity of the data. Secondly, because of the condition of official statistics in criminal matters, which is still a problematic insofar as the institutions that pursue the commission of crimes constitute at the same time the main sources of information, that is, they are judge and party. In fact, they are interested in criminal statistics beyond their simple design, since they can hardly “keep an objective record of the numbers that serve to justify their budget or to evaluate their strategy. It is not necessary to think that numbers are invented or that any data is hidden: it is enough with a change in the classification criteria so that assaults, attacks, injuries or threats increase or decrease, for example. Again, it happens in Mexico as it does in any other country: criminal statistics is problematic “(Escalante, 2012: 152 ).

However, the statistical problem is even greater with respect to drugs. In the logic of “combating drug trafficking,” rhetoric must be overwhelming, as well as advanced, eloquent numbers. The official reports, deliberately vague and imprecise, seasoned with vulgar inventions, are multiplied. “They offer precisely the kind of material that can alarm public opinion, that is, the image of a terrible threat, but impossible to grasp definitively” (Escalante, 2012: 102 ). Equally elusive turns out to be the methodology used. Following an exhaustive review of the state of the art, over the period of three decades that goes from the year 1970 to the year 2000,

“73% of the 139 original estimates recorded [...] do not include the methodology used to come to the numerical conclusions they adduce. And this despite the fact that a broad definition of methodology has been taken, which includes those that do not go beyond the two lines of explanation. The most adept at this spread of numbers that, without any explicit or implicit basis, pass to the category of myths, are the public security agencies. They only provide methodology in nineteen percent of the cases. At similar levels of hiding the origins of the estimates, and always below a quarter of the cases, the media are located [...]. On the other hand, the estimates made from the academy are the ones that most often tend to explicitly reflect the methodology used to arrive at their numerical conclusions, which makes them subject to comparison and relevant criticism. [...] Although the difference is not great, Mexican sources are the ones that most frequently resort to making explicit the methodological origin of the figures presented, ten points above their homonyms in the United States. Frivolity is greater among Americans “(Resa, 2005 a: 337-339).

Taking as reference the statistics produced by the Mexican academy on drug trafficking (which in itself is exaggerated, despite its good intentions and critical intentions), in comparison, the figures advanced by the media do more than doublé it, while those presented by the security agencies tripled it. Likewise, the statistics handled by the United States, both by the media and agencies, quadruple the average of the academic estimates made in Mexico (Figure 1). As expected, the volumen of the figures is inversely proportional to the methodological rigor, as well as to the objective interests.4 This is to say that, from the American perspective, it seems that the problem lies south of the border ...

Source: Takenfrom Resa (2005 a:340)

Figure 1 . Comparative average of statistical estimates about drug trafficking in Mexico according to their institutional and national origin 

This problematic situation, with a variation range of 400 %, “means that it is convenient to look at the numbers with some reservation - but not that they are uselessor that they can be leave aside” (Escalante, 2012: 114 ), except those from official sources of the North, which can systematically be dismissed. Now, alternative sources of information for criminal statistics are still very scarce. In the study of drug traffickin in Mexico, however, there is one notable exception: it is the study carried out by the economist Carlos Resa Nestares, from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, whose severity and depth provide reliable data on the subject. The latter, in turn, contribute to deconstruct the premises of the “narco”, starting with the main pillar that sustains them: the relative economic importance of drug trafficking. Indeed, the idea of the financial power of criminal groups, based on the rents of narcotics, turns out to be very widespread, in such a way that illegal markets would participate substantially in the formal economy and capitalist development. Multimillion-dollar figures scandalously launched by security agencies fulfill their main function here, which is to feed all speculations, phobias and other fantasies. The financial capital of drug trafficking is the touchstone of the “narco” enemy.

In this sense, the expression of “cárteles de la droga -drug cartels” is just another linguistic fetish, with which the strategic marketing capacity of the dealers is often overestimated, as well as the organizational strenght of the commercial networks that structure the illegal markets. On the contrary, the sanction of the law condemns the latter to such a distant state of the industry, as close to craftsmanship and manufacturing, through limited, localized, non-diversified, ephemeral and fragmented production and trade units. In fact, far from the mafia archetype, the criminal groups that operate in the illegal markets configure a complex world of medium-sized crime companies. It is even more the case in drug trafficking, since, apart from cultivation, “once with the relevant information to enter the market, the distribution of drugs is a labor-intensive business: the time devoted to public relations and transportation “(Resa, 2005 a: 637), not much more. With this, we do not want to deny the importance that drug trafficking can have in some areas or for certain sectors of the population, at a micro-economic level, but the role that it would play for the national economy. As demonstrated by Resa Nestares, even in the seventies and eighties, in a boom in drug consumption, Mexican exports, despite the increase in their nominal value, did not amount to more than 14 % of legal exports, and they never reached even 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (Figure 2).

Source: Preparedby the author from Rea (2005a:335) /

Figure 2 . Mexican drug exports by government period (1961-2000) 

At first, it is therefore necessary to qualify the economic weight that is usually attributed to the drug trade. In Mexico, the latter has a long history, old for at least a century (Astorga, 2016). In the eighties, its relative boom is explained by a complex set of factors, present in three scales of analysis. On the one hand, globally, there is a general increase in drug consumption, particularly in the neighboring country of the north, while the prices of many agricultural products suffer dramatic drops in international markets. On the other hand, at the national level, the imposition of neoliberal economic policies, with privatization and openness to transnational capital, has profound consequences in the countryside: the family-peasant economy enters into crisis, since its production stops receiving the subsidies of a Keynesian State that is being removed; the agrarian distribution is formally concluded; and, the ejido is abandoned to its fate by official corporatism. The final result lies in the decapitalization of Mexico, whose corollary lies in the exponential growth of the rural exodus and migratory flows.

In addition, preceded by electoral reforms to open the multiparty system, in those same years, the neoliberal policies of administrative decentralization cause the increasing transfer of functions and budgets to the municipality, particularly favorable for some rural municipalities whose income had been very scarce until then, which it enhances the traditional role of the municipality as an institutional channel of intermediation between the local society and the higher levels of government, as opposed to an ejido now in crisis. In turn, far from guaranteeing the constitutional figure of the “free and auton omous” municipality (Blancas, 2014), the neoliberal turn will reinforce the historical control of the town council by the regional elites and, thus, deepen a tendency to municipalize the caciquismo, consolidating the mutual dependence, both of the caciquil company with the state spill and the bureaucratic posts, as of the social control of the State with the informal power of the cacicazgos (derived from cacique). Therefore, in the third scale of analysis, at the micro level, “these state reforms strengthened the local and regional arrangements of certain actors involved in drug trafficking and politics” (Maldonado, 2012: 16 )

The relative rise of drug trafficking in Mexico since the 1980s depends on this complex set of factors. The causes are multiple, structural and, above all, economic, although not only. Faced with the crisis in the countryside, and despite the high costs of possible repression, the differential income from illegality extends illicit crops throughout the country: “comparing the price paid to the peasant, marijuana is 16 times better business than vanilla, the most expensive product, or 50 times better than almond, the second best paid. Regarding maize, marijuana is paid about 300 times better “(Resa, 2005 a: 414 ). However, this boom does not stop being relative, because if “in economic terms, the greater profitability of marijuana, opium poppy or cocaine is evident, compared to any other crop, [...] staying there would imply attributing to the peasants only an economic ethos and not another, as if they had no knowledge of the legal implications, as if their moral values did not exist “(Astorga, 1995: 31 )

In fact, much more than illicit crops, whose production is still limited, the lack of opportunities suffered by the workforce in the countryside, in fact, has led to recourse to migration, temporary or definitive, inside or out of the country. This is how “the number of [drug] producers, compared to that of farmers, is very low. Even in the most exaggerated figures, [...] the level of employment provided by the Fiscalía General de la República (Attorney’s General Office) does not represent more than 0.4 % of the employed population” (Resa, 2005 a: 415 ). In addition, in geographical terms, illicit crops have been concentrated at the national level in two large regions, as illustrated by the map of poppy eradication in recent years (Map 1). Both regions have been the same since the 1940s and the Second World War. Outside of them, the plantations are scarce or nonexistent. It is, first, the so-called “Triangulo dorado”, in the Sierra Madre Occidental, on the border of the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango, and, second, in the Sierra Madre del Sur, going from Michoacán to Oaxaca, whose center of activity is in Guerrero.

Source: Takenfrom Resa (2016 a:25)

Map 1.  Percentage of municipal area with destroyed poppy (2007-2015)  

The cultivation of poppy inguerrero

Today, Guerrero is the first drug grower among the states, concentrating 28 % of illicit crops in recent years (2007-2015), above of Sinaloa (21%), Chihuahua (19 %) and Durango (18 %) (Resa, 2016 a ). The Triangulo del Sol is displacing the Triangulo dorado. How has this Southern state come to that situation? Contrary to the image that sees in the atypicality of the “Guerrero Bronco” the reason for its historical misery, in reality, “the backwardness of the entity is not due to a lack of integration to the national and international capitalist system but, on the contrary, to its peculiar form of insertion” (Estrada, 1994: 16 ). The best example of this lies in illicit crops. While at the national level, Guerrero systematically occupies the last places in development indexes, inversely proportional, its leadership in illegal markets is notorious. From the eighties, with the opening from the South to the transnational capital,

“the dependence of the regional agricultural economy on international markets gave rise to quite unprecedented phenomena. One of the main ones, and that has been consolidated with particular relevance, is drug trafficking [...] [which] cannot be understood without the liberalization of the regional market and the lo cal transformation of the Mexican welfare state [...]. The processes of violence that we live today [...] have their origin in the way in which the regional economy and the international market were articulated, in a framework where the margins of the Mexican State ended up becoming illegal territories. [...] In this sense, the margins of the State or frontier territories are a historical product of the formation of economic enclaves. They are not isolated natural zones, nor spaces far from modernity; they are a direct consequence of the spatial differentiation built by the world and national economies “(Maldonado, 2010: 433)

The main result of the neoliberal change for Guerrero lies in the debacle of traditional agriculture. Thus, the state agricultural product, whose annual increase had been 5 % average in the seventies and eighties, began to decrease permanently from 1994 to 2002 (López, Torres, González, 2005), in such a way that the weight of the primary sector in the GDP of the state goes from 20 % that it represented in 1970, to 8 % at the beginning of the 21st century (Altuna, 2001: 75 ). In these dramatic circumstances, in its quest to get out of the crisis and escape from pauperization, the dilemma in which peasant families find themselves is relatively simple: either it is emigration, or illegality. Hence, in addition to a massive rural exodus, “another balance of the adoption of neoliberal policies by the southern directions is the vertiginous rubber boom. Old business of the traditional cacique from the Sierra, in times of “reconversion”, the narco-business is also modernized. [...] Guerrero discovers in sophisticated psy chotropics one of the greatest “comparative advantages” (Bartra, 2013: 144 ). If we add to this, an auspicious hot-humid climate, a relief that makes surveillance difficult and a communal agrarian property regime that makes the controls diffuse, all favorable conditions for illicit crops seem to converge and meet in the mountainous areas of Guerrero.

Now, and once again, how to measure the scope of the phenomenon? About poppy cultivation in Guerrero, we only have the official figures for eradication, which is still problematic, not only for the reasons that we have already explained in relation to criminal statistics in general, but also because of the patent manipulation that historically has characterized the eradication figures in particular, the same that have made the Mexican state a supposed champion of the “anti-drug struggle” worldwide. In addition, there is no direct relationship between eradication and cultivation, but only indirectly, because of the bias introduced by the political and bureaucratic interests of repression. However, although the official eradication figures do not present any usefulness in absolute terms, they can have one in relative terms, that is, to compare general courses of evolution and establish major trends, certainly imprecise but partially significant, either in time (between decades or sexenios), in the space (between states, regions or municipalities) or in the same matter (between crops). This critical and reflective use of official statistics indicates a first trend in the evolution of illicit crops in Mexico, around the turn of the century: while in the second half of the twentieth century, the cultivation of mari juana predominated over that of the poppy, at the beginning of the 21st century, this domain seems to be reversed, now in favor of the second, with the poppy representing more than 75% of illicit crops throughout the country in recent years (Figure 3).

Source: (Presidenciade la República)

Figure 3 . Percentage of eradication by type of illicit crop in Mexico (2000-2016) Own elaboration using Kánter’s data (2017:101)  

About poppy cultivation in Guerrero, we only have the official figures for eradication, which is still problematic, not only for the reasons that we have already explained in relation to criminal statistics in general, but also because of the patent manipulation that historically has characterized the eradication figures in particular, the same ones that have made the Mexican state a supposed champion of the “anti-drug struggle” worldwide5. In addition, there is no direct relationship between eradication and cultivation, but only indirectly, because of the bias introduced by the political and bureaucratic interests of repression. However, although the official eradication figures do not present any usefulness in absolute terms, they can have one in relative terms, that is, to compare general courses of evolution and establish major trends, certainly imprecise but partially significant, either in time (between decades or six-years cycle), in the space (between states, regions or municipalities) or in the same matter (between crops). This critical and reflective use of official statistics indicates a first trend in the evolution of illicit crops in Mexico, around the turn of the century: while in the second half of the twentieth century, the cultivation of marijuana predominated over that of poppy, at the beginning of the 21st century, this domain seems to be reversed, now in favor of the second, with the poppy representing more than 75 % of illicit crops throughout the country in recent years (Figure 3).

At this point, it is important to underline the importance that this investment has for the strategic position of Guerrero. In effect, since the historical beginning of its participation in the market of illicit crops, the entity has specialized in the planting of poppies, with marijuana being relegated to a relatively marginal production. For example, between 2007 and 2015, in Guerrero, “only” 3 % of the marijuana cultivated in the country was planted, occupying a ninth place among the states. The cultivation of marijuana, rather, has been carried out at the regional level by the neighboring state of Michoacán, and, nationally, by the region of the Sierra Madre Occidental, particularly by Sinaloa, a state that alone accounts for 36 % of the total national eradication in those same years (Resa, 2016 a ). Therefore, the current trend, which marks the arrival of a new era of dominance for poppy (in relation to the boom of its derivative products), can only reinforce Guerrero’s position in illegal plant-based drugs trade. Proof of this is the growing weight that the entity has within the national market in relative terms, that is, in comparison with other entities, such as, for example, the symbolic state of Sinaloa: while the latter has a decrease in the cultivation of poppy between 1995 and 2011, Guerrero has a contrary tendency, given that its production increases substantially and the strategic position does not stop growing, reaching at the beginning of the 21st century more than half of the Mexican poppy production (Figure 4).

Elaborated by the author

Source: (ConsejoCiudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal, s/f: 28)

Figure 4 . Eradication of poppy in Sinaloa, Guerrero and Mexico (1995-2011)  

The centrality of Guerrero in the eradication of plantations during the last decades is significant. From 1989 to mid-1993, Guerrero ranks first among national entities in the number of hectares destroyed, representing 35 % of the total (Astorga, 2016: 161). Throughout the 1990s, from 1990 to 2003, more than half (52 %) of the poppy crops eradicated in the country correspond to the state of Guerrero alone (Resa, 2005 a: 448 ), while in the 2000s, precisely, from 1997 to 2015, the total accumulated area of the destroyed crops was equivalent to 7 % of the area of agricultural use, being the entity of the country with the highest index of agricultural area destined to the cultivation of drugs (Resa, 2016a). Finally, in more recent years, between 2007 and 2015, of the 91 municipalities with a high rate of eradication of illicit crops (more than 250 m2 per inhabitant), 17 are from Guerrero, which cover 37 % of the surface of the entity and equivalent to one fifth of its municipalities. Likewise, of the total destroyed in these 17 municipalities, 96 % correspond to poppy fields (Resa, 2016b).

Due to this specialization in opium poppy cultivation, from 2007 to 2015, half of the 50 Mexican municipalities with the highest density of poppy crops are from Guerrero (Map 2)6, which also represent half (47 %) of the total surface eradicated throughout the country (Resa, 2016 a ). As can be seen in the map, these 25 municipalities can be divided into large and medium producers (in dark red and light red, respectively). They correspond geographically with the mountainous chain of the Sierra Madre del Sur, along an interior strip that crosses the entire state. In turn, the latter is clearly divided into the two parts that we had mentioned in the introduction: from the western side, the region of the Sierra, at the junction of the vast municipalities of the Costa Grande and the Tierra Caliente, in parallel with the basin of the river Balsas that marks the border with Michoacán, and, on the eastern side, the region of the mountain, composed of smaller municipalities, some bordering Oaxaca, both regions being connected to each other with the center of the state and its capital, Chilpancingo. Finally, of these 25 poppy-grower municipalities, one-third (8) are mountains, integrating what we have called the other Red Mountain.

Source: Ownelaboration from Resa (2016 a)

Map 2 . Municipalities with the highest poppy cultivation in Guerrero (2007-2015)  

Illicit crops, eradication and violence

Talking about illicit crops not only take us to the issue of drug trafficking, but also to the idea of violence that, in general, is usually associated with this activity. In this sense, Guerrero would be a violent entity because drugs are produced there. The explanatory appearance is tempting. However, if we take as reference the 17 municipalities of Guerrero with the highest rates of drugcultivation, following the eradication figures of the last decades, and if we compare them with the homicide rates recorded in these same municipalities, the correlation between both variables, in spite of being positive, do not really present a statistical significance that is relevant enough to sug gest a direct connecting link between illicit crops and violence (Table 1).

Table 1 Homicide rates in drug-producing municipalities (1990-2015) 

Poppy grower municipalities 1990 1999 2000 2007 2007 2015 1990 2015 Homicide rate
1 Heliodoro Castillo 52 25 25 35 Medium low
2 San Miguel Totolapan 66 27 81 59 High
3 Zapotitlán Tablas 39 53 77 55 High
4 Leonardo Bravo 44 15 22 28 Medium low
5 Atlixtac 99 39 51 66 Very High
6 Acatepec 28 18 14 19 Low
7 Coyuca de Catalán 57 41 110 68 Very High
8 Tlacoapa 38 28 18 29 Medium low
9 Metlatónoc 40 18 16 26 Medium low
10 Ajuchitlán 50 25 54 44 Medium high
11 Zirándaro 27 24 54 34 Medium low
12 Copanatoyac 110 51 38 70 Very High
13 Tecpan 50 35 74 53 High
14 José Joaquín de Herrera - 5 13 11 Low
15 Coahuayutla 71 45 98 71 Very High
16 Canuto Neri 60 29 35 43 Medium high
17 Atoyac 32 38 40 49 Medium high
Average 51 30 57 47 Medium high
Rest of Guerrero 38 22 54 37 Medium

Own elaboration from Resa (2016 b: 27)


In the period from 1990 to 2015, although poppy grower municipalities have an average of homicides that is higher than the state average (of almost 10 points), this difference tends to diminish in comparison with the rest of the municipalities, which have suffered similar levels of homicide in recent years (2007-2015). In addition, this average hides an important range (of 60 percentage points) that separates the poppy grower municipalities from each other: while some have low (2) or médium low rates (5), all lower than the state average, others have medium high (3), high (3) or very high (4) rates. It is also noteworthy that this same average has a typical evolution that follows the general course of homicides in the rest of the entity. Moreover, the average correlation between cultivation and homicide, which would imply a causal relationship, almost automatic, between poppy production and violence, is contradicted in several cases, as in the municipalities of Leonardo Bravo, José Joaquín de Herrera, Metlatónoc or Acatepec, in which, despite a notorious crop, the homicide rate is systematically lower than the state average between 2000 and 2015. Even, the last two municipalities know a decrease in homicides in the same period, in addition to presenting some of the lowest municipal rates in all of Guerrero.

Therefore, the relative coincidence between illicit crops and homicidal violence, at medium levels, can only be explained through other factors, in addition to simple farming. In other words, if in general, the production of drugs is a factor prone and relatively proportional to homicide, the latter cannot be explained only from the criminal activities that this production requires, but from a complex set of factors. In fact, while poppy cultivation is relatively old in Guerrero, with an importance that dates back at least half a century, and that until recently, had not been perceived as a security problem but rather, as one of economic nature; on the other hand, the increase in violence related to crime incidence is much more recent, which is why other factors explain this increase, which are added to the fact of illicit crops. In this sense, “the drug trade is not an element to which the differences in levels of violence in Mexico can be uniformly attributed” (Resa, 2005 a: 599 ). In the South, the boom in illicit crops entered a social context that was already violent. Probably this contributed to exacerbate it, but in no way, to (re) create it.

The official presentation of a supposed relationship between illicit crops and violence, responds more to the bureaucratic interests of public security agencies than to reality, insofar as they invoke the commercial fight between drug businessmen (the “fight for plazas”), as a supposed cause of violence, in abstracto, presents several advantages for the authorities. In the first place, because the fatalistic dimension that reverts the disputes between criminals, seen as irrational and therefore inevitable, comes to be accepted with some resignation and, thus, reaches to justify in part the ineffectiveness of the legal managers. Secondly, because the presumption of guilt and the criterion of danger, which uphold this version of facts legally and politically, distances the victims from the need for justice, making them unworthy of any defense (in particular, of human rights), making the process superfluous and, once again, absolving officials from their obligations. In Mexico, this logic is aggravated by the fact that crimes against public health have federal jurisdiction, which encourages local authorities to argue the presence of the drug factor in order to declare themselves incompetent, to pass the case to higher instances and, in this way, save their scarce resources.

However, there is a positive correlation that is more significant in statistical terms, even if it is in a general way, it is the one that links eradication itself with homicide, that is, militarization with violence. Thus, at a national level, between 1998 and 2001, the rate of persons sentenced for homicide in the municipalities with the greatest destruction of plantations doubles that of the municipalities lacking in eradication, by observing a course similar to that presented by the rate of persons sentenced of crimes against public health between both types of municipality, this second tendency enjoying at least a greater apparent logic (Table 2). Moreover, among the municipalities most affected by the military eradication policies, “the homicide rate almost triples that recorded in the municipalities where such a large activity of eradication tasks is not reported” (Resa, 2005 a: 610 ) .

Table 2 Homicide and crime against public health rates among the Mexican municipalities with the highest eradication and those who lack it (1998-2001) 

Type of municipality Number Rate of persons convicted of manslaughter Rate of persons convicted of crime against public health
Greater erradication 99 44 82
Without erradication 2331 23 34

Source: Resa (2005a: 610)

In Guerrero, the first poppy grower entity and, therefore, the first victim of the eradication campaigns against it, has not stopped increasing the numerical presenceof troops and the budgetary level of military activities. On the one hand, taking as an example only the 1998, “in the state have been allocated approximately 3,000 troops for these tasks, that is, about one sixth of the troops designated for the fight against drug trafficking in the country, is in Guerrero” (Barrera, 2001: 301 ). On the other hand, in more recent years, between 2007 and 2012, the budget allocated to the Novena Región Militar (corresponding to the state of Guerrero) doubled, from 543 to 1,039 million pesos (Aguayo, Benítez, 2012), while , in parallel, the total amount of federal contributions to the entity in terms of security increases from 291 million, in 2009, to 571 million in 2013 (CNDH, 2013). However, the increasing interventionism of the army and other corporations does not lead to the achievement of official goals, on the contrary, “the coefficient of correlation between the budget exercised for public security and the levels of criminal incidence was 0.6, which implies that the increase in the budget exercised between 2001 and 2009 was not associated with a decrease in the incidence of crime, since both variables increased at the same time, instead of showing an opposite effect “(INSYDE, 2014: 13).


It is difficult to deny the positive correlation that exists between militarization and criminal incidence, in general, and between eradication campaigns and homicide rates in particular. If there is a relationship between drug production and violence, the latter, more than criminal, is primarily institutional. All illicit cultivation is synonymous with state violence. From its very origins, at the beginning of the 20th century, with the adoption of the prohibitionist paradigm, drug trafficking “was born in the shadow of interests of the political field and subordinated to it. This continued for decades “(Astorga, 2016: 203 ). In Mexico, there is no doubt that drug trafficking is an eminently political issue. More than the criminal groups that operate in the drug market, the issue of illicit crops refers to the State, its institutions and, in particular, the institution officially responsable for combating them: the army. In the 21st century, “drug trafficking became a mask to impose a regime of order” (Maldonado, 2010: 359 ). Within this reordering of the Mexican political system, Guerrero, as in the 1970s, continues to be one of the states most affected by the militarism of official politics; before, because of the guerrilla, today, with the pretext of drugs. In this way, despite the nature of the processes that distinguish them, the two Red Mountains unite in the same destination, whose tragic color is that of the blood spilled on the roads of the South.


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1As an illustration, after the inauguration of the first communist president, in the municipality of Alcozauca, “red flags were raised in the police stations of all the communities” (Sarmiento, 2010: 343).

2“Gomera” in reference to the opium gum that is harvested from the fruit of the poppy.

3We put the word “illegals” in parentheses only to underscore the official hypocrisy that consists of defining drugs from the mere legality, when in fact, many of them are legal, such as alcohol and tobacco, or as in the case of the vast majority of the drugs of allopathic medicine, that is, almost all medicines. In this sense, it is healthy to remember, as Astorga (2016) does, that before the political imposition of prohibitionism from the United States, at the beginning of the 20th century, several of the drugs ilegal today were in free sale in pharmacies, starting with all the opiates derived from the poppy.

4As a sample of these interests, “the budget of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) between 1996 and 2003, times of greatest public accusations against the Mexican government, rose by 60% in constant dollars. In the same period, its staff grew by a more modest 30%, both figures well above the almost freezing of the Budget and public personnel that appeared during those years in the whole of the US public administration. Between 1998 and 2002, the budget of the DEA office in Mexico rose, according to pay sheet records, by 33 %. This increase more than doubled the record in the rest of the Latin American offices “(Resa, 2005a: 115-116).

5According to official statistics, Mexico would be the country where most marijuana is destroyed in the world, for several decades. Taking only one example, in the 1990s, the Mexican army would have managed to eradicate on average 84 % of the total illicit crops (marijuana and opium poppy) throughout the country (Resa, 2005a: 382).

6Grouped by region and in descending order of importance, the 25 main poppy grower municipalities are the following: Zapotitlán Tablas, Atlixtac, Acatepec, Tlacoapa, Copanatoyac, Metlatónoc, Alcozauca and Malinaltepec in the Mountain; Heliodoro Castillo, San Miguel Totolapan, oyuca de Catalán, Pungarabato (Altamirano City), Ajuchitlán and Zirándaro in Tierra Caliente; Leonardo Bravo, Chilpancingo, Chilapa, Quechultenango and Zitlala in the Central region; Atoyac, Tecpan and José Azueta (Zihuatanejo) in Costa Grande; Ometepec and Ayutla in Costa Chica; and, the municipality of Canuto Neri in the North region.

Received: September 26, 2017; Accepted: November 30, 2017

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