Pubdate: Fri, 15 Jul 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: David Luhnow


Mexican soldiers discovered one of the largest marijuana plantations
ever found in the country, just 200 miles south of San Diego, Calif.,
the Mexican Defense Ministry said.

Mexican officials said on Thursday that the plantation, in Baja
California, stretched as far as the eye could see-totaling some 120
hectares (296 acres). The crop would yield about 120 metric tons and
be worth an estimated $160 million, the Defense Ministry said in a

Video of the plantation showed a sophisticated system of piped-in
irrigation to support the plants, some of which were several feet
tall, according to the Associated Press. The plantation was shielded
by a black screen.

The army didn't say whether anyone was arrested. When it finds fields,
the crop is typically cut and burned.

Mexico's army hailed the find as the biggest marijuana plantation ever
found in the country, saying the field was four times the size of a
notorious bust in 1984 at a ranch called "El Bufalo" in northern
Chihuahua state.

But experts questioned the military's claim, saying the Bufalo field
was far bigger. Several Mexican press reports say El Bufalo stretched
for 540 hectares (1,344 acres), quoting officials at the time.Press
reports from the time also said police found anywhere from 2,500 to
6,000 tons of marijuana at the ranch-worth more than $3.2 billion to
$8 billion in today's prices.

"There's no comparison between the two busts-El Bufalo was far
bigger," said Alberto Islas, a security expert based in Mexico City.
Mexico's army could be talking up the bust as a way to boost moral
given the continuing violence surrounding Mexico's drug war, Mr. Islas

A Mexican official said that the Bufalo plantation was a series of 13
different fields and that this week's find was bigger than any
individual field found in the 1984 bust.

More than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico
since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took power in December 2006
and launched a crackdown on powerful drug traffickers.

Mexico is the world's biggest producer of marijuana, with the U.S. a
close second, according to United Nations figures.

Although no one knows exactly how much drug gangs in Mexico make from
marijuana, most experts say the figure is at least several billion
dollars a year-a large piece of their overall revenue.

Seizures of marijuana by Mexico's army have increased in the past
years, rising to 866,000 tons last year versus 590,000 tons in 2007.
But seizures of cocaine are way down, something analysts say is an
unintended consequence of focusing so many troops on fighting
traffickers themselves, leaving less time in finding their illicit

The El Bufalo bust in 1984 is a hallmark in Mexico's drug wars.
Experts say it was thanks to undercover work by Drug Enforcement
Administration agent Enrique Camarena that the field was found.

The drug-dealer who owned the property, Rafael Caro Quintero, was
later charged with the 1985 torture-murder of Mr. Camarena and his
pilot Alfredo Zavala.


Cash Crop

Marijuana is lucrative alternative to traditional corn cultivation in Mexico.

Yield per hectare: Corn: 3 metric tons / Pot: 1

Price per metric ton:  Corn: $550 / Pot: $1.2 million

Revenue per hectare: Corn: $1,650 / Pot: $1.2 million

Sources: U.S. Agriculture Department; Mexican Ministry of Economy; 
Mexican Defense Ministry	
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