Thousands flee Mexico's epicenter of marijuana and poppy production
A Mexican human rights NGO says close to 25,000 people have been displaced from Sinaloa state due to fighting between drug cartels over the past several months, according to InSight Crime.
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A flood of villagers are fleeing their homes in the state of Sinaloa, driven out by a battle between two of the country's biggest criminal organizations – the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization – for the crown jewel of Mexico's drug production: the Sierra Madre mountain range.
In May, the Sinaloa state government released a report (see pdf in original post) claiming 1,203 families, or an estimated 5,000 people, had been forced to leave their homes in the last several months, but blamed the displacements on both increasing violence in the area and a severe drought. The Sinaloa Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental organization, says the number of displaced in the state is closer to 25,000 people over roughly the same period, the vast majority of whom are fleeing the fighting between drug cartels.
Both the state and the human rights organization reports agree that the majority of these people come from municipalities in the Sierra Mountains, which cut through the states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. This region makes up part of the so-called Golden Triangle, the epicenter of marijuana and poppy (the raw ingredient for heroin) production in the country. Authorities also believe there are large, industrial-size methamphetamine labs in the area.
The Sierra is a symbolic center of operations for the Sinaloa Cartel and the cartel's birthplace. For opposition forces, taking this strategic and symbolic center of operations would represent a seismic shift in the Mexican underworld and may help explain why the Sinaloa cartel forces have targeted the Zetas' stronghold of Nuevo Laredo in recent weeks.
Displaced people, interviewed during a visit to the area by InSight Crime, say that beginning in July of last year caravans of vehicles carrying large groups of heavily armed men have poured into their territory to commit assassinations, burn houses, and run them from their villages.
"They say: 'If you stay, you work with us. If you don't work with us, you die,'" one frightened displaced resident of Sinaloa de Levya told InSight Crime on condition of anonymity.