Pubdate: Sun, 30 Aug 2015
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2015 Star Advertiser
Author: Azam Ahmed, New York Times


CALVARIO, MEXICO - With her nimble hands, tiny feet and low center of 
gravity, Angelica Guerrero Ortega makes an excellent opium harvester.

Deployed along the Sierra Madre del Sur, where a record poppy crop 
covers the mountainsides in strokes of green, pink and purple, she 
navigates the inclines with the deftness of a ballerina.

Though shy, she perks up when describing her craft: the delicate 
slits to the bulb, the patient scraping of the gum, earning in one 
day more than her parents do in a week.

That she is only 15 is not so important for the people of her tiny 
mountain hamlet. If she and her classmates miss school for the 
harvest, so be it. In a landscape of fallow opportunities, income 
outweighs education.

"It is the best option for us," Angelica said, leaning against a 
wood-plank house in her village, where nearly all of the children 
work the fields. "Back down in the city, there is nothing for us, no 

As heroin addiction soars in the United States, a boom is underway 
south of the border, reflecting the two nations' troubled symbiosis. 
Officials from both countries say that Mexican opium production 
increased by an estimated 50 percent in 2014 alone, the result of a 
voracious American appetite, impoverished farmers in Mexico and 
entrepreneurial drug cartels that straddle the border.

Abusers of prescription pharmaceuticals in America are looking for 
cheaper highs, as a crackdown on painkiller abuse has made the habit 
highly expensive. And the legalization of marijuana in some states 
has pushed down prices, leading many Mexican farmers to switch crops. 
The cartels have adapted, edging into U.S. markets once reserved for 
higher-quality heroin from Southeast Asia, and pressing out of urban 
centers into the suburbs and rural communities.

"The cartels have a pretty good handle on the appetite in the U.S.," 
said Jack Riley, deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement 
Administration. "They understand the prescription drug issue here, 
and that is one of the major reasons why you are seeing the expansion 
of poppy production."

The results have rattled both nations. In the U.S., where deaths from 
heroin overdose surged 175 percent between 2010 and 2014, politicians 
and drug enforcement agents are scrambling to respond. In Mexico, 
where cartel violence has pulsed through the nation, bringing the 
deaths and disappearances of thousands, the government reports that 
it eradicated a record number of hectares of poppy crops last year.

Nowhere is the toll of that surge more apparent than in Guerrero, the 
country's most violent state, where rival drug factions perpetrate a 
war of bloody competition and silent disappearances that have 
paralyzed the region. Here, farmers are increasingly opting to grow 
poppies, cloaking remote mountainsides in the robust crop to eke out 
a living in places like Calvario where, as far as most are concerned, 
the government barely exists. To meet the demand, children are 
enlisted in the harvest.

The governor of Guerrero recently likened his state to Afghanistan, 
the world's largest opium producer.

"We are pretty much in the same place, even though we are just one 
state and they are a country," said Gov. Rogelio Ortega Martinez, 
whose state has seen the sharpest increase in opium production nationwide.

But unlike Afghanistan, a nation writhing under the weight of more 
than three decades of conflict, Guerrero is not an all-out war zone. 
The state capital has a Burger King and a McDonald's. Guerrero is 
also home to the famous beaches and resorts of Acapulco.

But where children like Angelica scale steep mountainsides to lance 
poppies and collect the gummy brown opium that seeps out, there is an 
eerie similarity with Afghanistan. In both places, the near absence 
of the state allows the industry to flourish.

"It is not the drug production that generates underdevelopment," said 
Antonio Mazzitelli, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in 
Mexico. "It is the lack of development that generates the opium cultivation."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom