(Repeats story from earlier Monday with no change to text)
By Lizbeth Diaz and Michael O'Boyle
COYUCA DE CATALAN, Mexico May 8 The Mexican
army says its fight against surging opium production that feeds
U.S demand is increasingly complicated by the rise of smaller
gangs disputing wild, ungoverned lands planted with
ever-stronger poppy strains.
The gangs have engulfed the state of Guerrero in a war to
control poppy fields, turning inaccessible mountain valleys of
endemic poverty and famous beach resorts into Mexico's bloodiest
Colonel Isaac Aaron Jesus Garcia, who runs a base in one of
the state’s most unruly cities, Ciudad Altamirano, told Reuters
on an operation to chop down poppies high in the Guerrero
mountains that violence increased two years ago when a third
gang, Los Viagra, began a grab for territory.
Bodies are discovered almost daily across the state, tossed
by roads, some buried in mass graves. In Ciudad Altamirano, the
mayor was killed last year and a journalist gunned down in March
at a car wash.
"These fractures (in the gangs) started two years ago, and
that caused this violence that is all about monopolizing the
production of the drug," Jesus Garcia said.
From this frontline of the fight against heroin, Jesus
Garcia sees a direct link between a record U.S. heroin epidemic
that killed nearly 13,000 people in 2015 and violence on his
"The increase of consumers for this type of drug in the
United States has been exponential and the collateral effect is
seen here," Jesus Garcia said.
Heroin use in the United States has risen five-fold in the
past decade and addiction has more than tripled, with the
biggest jumps among whites and men with low incomes.
Jesus Garcia said the task of seeking out poppy fields in
one of Mexico's poorest and least accessible regions, rising
above the beach resorts of Acapulco and Ixtapa, was practically
His 34th Battalion and others send platoons of troops on
foot for month-long expeditions every season. They set up camps
and fan through treacherous terrain, part of a campaign that
destroys tens of thousands of fields a year.
One such field visited by Reuters was deep in a lawless
region six hours from Ciudad Altamirano through winding dirt
roads thick with dust that rose into the mountains.
It was irrigated by a lawn sprinkler mounted on a pole that
spritzed water over less than a hectare of poppies and
fertilizer bags were piled nearby, basic farming techniques the
soldiers nevertheless said were a sign of growers' new
A dozen troops fanned out, chopping down the flowers with
Army officials said gangs use poppy varieties that produce
higher yields and more potent opium from smaller plots, and that
its higher value is driving violent competition between gangs.
"Now we see more production of poppy in less terrain, and it
has to do with the quantity of bulbs each plant has,” said
Lieutenant Colonel Jose Urzua as he showed bulbs oozing valuable
gum from slits. He explained opium is often harvested by
In these tiny mountain hamlets opium has grown for decades,
officials said, but a coffee plague and the U.S. opiate epidemic
has led farmers to plant much more.
The harvest has become central to Guerrero's economy, also
dependent on cash sent home by immigrants.
One army official said the field seen by Reuters could
produce around 3 kilos (6.6 lb) of opium, fetching up to $950
per kilo from traffickers who sell it for up to $8,000.
"There aren’t many alternatives here," said a woman selling
soft drinks and snacks from a pine shack by a dirt road. Her
husband grows poppies, and she said anyone who runs a business
faces extortion by gangs.
(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Chris Reese)