~ This article was originally published by El Sur de Acapulco on May 16, 2016 ~
Filo de Caballos, Municipality of Leonardo Bravo, Guerrero — In less than a year, eight sierra communities have nearly eliminated the violence provoked by the planting of opium poppies and the harvesting of gum by converting it into a business that yields a profit for the development of their towns.
On the margins of government rule and cartel control, the eight towns of the Filo Mayor of the sierra organized a strategy that is functioning as a pilot project and is currently being considered for adoption by other towns in the region owing to the “good results” it has produced, reported the commissioners of Campo de Aviación and Filo de Caballos, Pacheco González and Arturo López Torres, respectively.
The system consists of the integration of a committee that is tasked with collecting the community’s production of opium gum from the poppies and selling it to the buyer that offers the best price. The committees also prevent people who are not part of the community from entering towns that were previously battlefields as buyers fought over product and territory.
In one year the novel mechanism has not only eliminated violence in those towns, but has also produced additional earnings that are divided equitably among the towns that formed the committee, which are being used for public works such as the building and maintenance of roads, “or for whatever the schools, health clinics, and town offices need,” one of the commissioners explained.
López Torres said that this example demonstrates that the violence is not produced by the planting of the opium poppies, but by the intermediaries who buy and fight over the product, as well as buy the government that is attempting to combat them.
The commissioners did not mention, for reasons of security, the names of the towns involved, but Pacheco González explained that they were places that until last year were experiencing high rates of violence and that “the residents were fed up and decided to organize.” “They are not a community police force, they are not a self-defense force, none of that. Their strength is in their organization. It is a place where they produce a good product, they get it done because the entire family works, from the kids to the women, they all bust their asses,” the commissioner from Campo de Aviación explained.
The novel system prevents drug cartels or criminal groups from entering the towns and buying directly from producers, a system that also prevents the intermediaries from paying whatever they want to the farmers. It is the committee, formed by eight representatives—one from each town—that deals directly with those who are interested in the product and oversees the purchasing process.
“Because we all use radios, we find out when the money has been delivered, then the growers bring their product to the committee and it takes charge of gathering it and delivering it all together. It is also the only one that takes money.” They explained that it is a deal that requires trust, because the committee members guarantee that the buyer has safe passage through the territory that the committee controls, “and then they tell him, from here, you’re on your own.”
“It is a pilot program, that is producing very good results. Crime has diminished in a year, because the people are not interested in having a damn cartel or something buy from them, what they care about and what they want is for someone to bring the money and take the drug shit, because that is the way these communities survive,” he said referring to the production of opium gum.
For his part, the commissioner of Filo de Caballos, López Torres explained that it was a sort of cooperative, that is benefitting not only the producers, but entire towns, because beyond ending violence, after paying the producers there are excess profits that are distributed equitably between the participating towns, and that this money is used for repairing roads, or providing things that are needed at schools and health clinics, “or for whatever they want to use it for.”
López Torres added that the example of these towns is evidence that it is not the planting and harvesting of poppies that causes violence, but rather organized crime that fights over the drugs and the territory, and that the means of resolving the problem requires the cooperation of the authorities. He explained that the problem is that the producers “fight against three enemies and one traitor.” The three enemies are the government, insect pests, and bad weather, while the traitors are the criminal organizations that come buy the drug and confront and divide the producers.
He said that it is illogical that Mexico is the second-ranked producer of opium poppies worldwide, and that Guerrero is the top-ranked producer in the country of opium gum, and that the area that produces the most is still submerged in abject poverty.
“Despite the fact that we are an opium gum producing region, the people here are totally screwed and they don’t even have enough money to survive. If you ask people where they go for vacations every year, they’ll say they go to plant poppies.” He continues: “There are 50,000 residents in 1,280 communities, all of them make a living growing poppies, and half of them have never even seen Acapulco or the ocean.”
He explained that a farmer who rents to poppy growers earns 1,000 pesos a week, while the grower is permanently indebted, always hoping that the next harvest will be better, “and all because the government is not interested in the production and sale, in the style of the first world, like Spain, for example, without risks and with profits for everyone.” He said that the regularization of the production and the sale of the poppies is a means of ending the problems of the black market “that has brought us insecurity, violence, murders, and poverty for the producers.”
López Torres pointed out that if the government does not change the framework, the producers have seen what they can do with organization alone, and that they will follow the example of the eight towns that formed the committee.
Zacarías Cervantes is a correspondent for El Sur de Acapulco in Guerrero. This story originally appeared under the title “Establecen en la sierra un método para vender la goma de amapola sin que los cárteles entren a los poblados” and is available at: http://suracapulco.mx/2/establecen-en-la-sierra-un-metodo-para-vender-la-goma-de-amapola-sin-que-los-carteles-entren-a-los-poblados/
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute