First coca plantation discovered in Mexico. Cutting out the middleman?

Previously, only labs that processed coca into cocaine had been found in Mexico - not plantations. The seizure of 1,639 coca plants raises concerns that it could be a test of the viability of reducing dependence on South American suppliers.

FREDY BUILES
A soldier of the Seventh Division of the Colombian National Army stands guard during an operation to eradicate coca plants at a plantation in northeastern Antioquia, Sept. 3, 2014. Previously, only labs that processed coca into cocaine had been found in Mexico - but this week authorities siezed 1,639 coca plants in southern Mexico, raising concerns that it could be trying to reduce dependence on South American suppliers like Colombia.

The seizure of 1,639 coca plants in southern Mexico marks the first known instance of the raw ingredient for cocaine being cultivated in the country, Mexican and UN officials said Wednesday.

Mexico is home to various drug cartels that traffic large quantities of cocaine toward the United States, but coca itself is typically grown in the Andean region. The find raised concerns that it could be a test of the viability of reducing dependence on South American suppliers.

"It's a pretty troubling discovery," said Antonio Mazzitelli, the Mexico representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. He added that it could amount to "a small-scale experiment to see if there's a possibility of replicating" coca cultivation in Mexico.

Both he and Mexican Gen. Sergio Martinez, commander of the 36th military zone in the southern state of Chiapas, confirmed that the coca plantation is a first for Mexico. Previously, Mazzitelli said, only labs that processed coca into cocaine had been found in the country.

Soldiers and agents discovered the plants in the town of Tuxtla Chico near the border between Guatemala and Chiapas, a mountainous state known for its coffee plantations.

An agent at the Mexican Attorney General's Office, who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the find came due to an anonymous phone tip and interrogation of three suspects who were detained with about 400 pounds (180 kilograms) of coca leaf in the southern city of Tapachula.

Although native to the Andes, where it can be found from Panama to Argentina, the coca bush is very resilient and can survive anywhere climatic conditions are right.

"It grows well anywhere, say, tea can grow," said Paul Gootenberg, the author of "Andean Cocaine" and a Latin America historian at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

"Ecologically, coca is far more malleable than most people think," he said via email.

The Dutch, Japanese, and British grew coca in Asian colonies in the early 20th century. Dutch Java, now part of Indonesia, glutted the world market with 1,700 tons of coca leaf in 1920, according to Gootenberg. The British grew it in Ceylon, and the Japanese in Formosa, now Taiwan.

Mazzitelli said this week's discovery could be an attempt to diversify beyond current crops such as poppies, which are used to make opium and heroin.

Mazzitelli said important details about the coca seizure have not yet been made public, such as what variety the plants were, where they may have been imported from, whether they were genetically modified and how mature they were.

Large quantities of coca leaves are required to generate coca paste, and it takes a couple of years for a plant to become productive, he added.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.