Are Mexican Cartels Trying to Make Their Own Cocaine?

Coca fields have been discovered in Mexico for the second time.
February 26, 2021, 2:00pm
coca plan
A peasant harvests coca leaves in Vallenato, in Narino, the southwest of Colombia, November 10, 2018. Increasingly, plantations of the drug are being found in Mexico and Central America. Photo: LUIS ROBAYO, AFP via Getty Images.

MEXICO CITY - The Mexican army discovered and destroyed more than four hectares of coca and a laboratory that processes the plant into cocaine this week.

This is only the second time that a coca plantation has been discovered in Mexico, but could be the beginning of a worrisome trend if local traffickers are finally able to find a way to grow the plant to a sufficient scale within the country.

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The coca plant has long been cultivated in the South American Andes, principally in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. But the discovery of small coca plantations outside of those countries suggests that ambitious traffickers might be trying to cut into the cocaine producing business to break the monopoly currently enjoyed by those Andean nations.

The first field uncovered in Mexico was in the southern state of Chiapas, close to the border with Guatemala in 2014. News reports at the time claimed that authorities found 1,639 plants on about one-third of an acre of land. However, since then, there have been no new reports of coca plants in Mexico—until now.

This week’s field was discovered in the southwestern state of Guerrero around 90 miles from the beachside resort of Acapulco, and was much larger.

“Guerrero State hasn’t registered this type of planting and cultivation of these crops,” Coronel Enrique Benítez Campoy told the press afterwards. “It is the first to be found," 

Coca has also been discovered in Central American nations in recent years. In Honduras, authorities found and destroyed six hectares of the plant in the jungles of the coastal province of Colón last year. In 2020, Honduran officials claimed to have destroyed more than 100 acres of coca crops (a hectare is roughly 2.5 acres). Neighboring Guatemala discovered its first coca fields in 2018.

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But the discovery of coca plants again in Mexico is particularly troubling, due to the number of organized crime groups in the region and its proximity to the United States, which is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. Mexican criminal syndicates have made billions of dollars by transporting cocaine grown and made in South American countries for decades, but have never grown coca and processed it on Mexican soil.

If the current trend expands, that dynamic has the potential to change Mexico into a cocaine production hub, not just a transit nation.

After destroying the field in Guerrero, the military official acknowledged that the area was ideal for coca to flourish. 

“The combination of climate, heat and altitude has allowed the cultivation of the coca," said Benítez Campoy.

Guerrero is one of Mexico’s most violent states with the presence of several larger drug cartels and numerous smaller gangs competing for control of the local market, trafficking routes, and the production of various substances like marijuana, heroin, fentanyl, and now, apparently cocaine.