Front Lines of Mexican Drug War a Danger Zone!

Front Lines of Mexican Drug War a Danger Zone!
Posted by FoM on February 18, 1999 at 21:27:13 PT

CHILPANCINGO, Mexico, Anti-drug agents spraying herbicides on poppy plantations in the rugged mountains of Mexico's main opium-producing region say the war on drugs puts them under potential attack 365 days a year. 
Last year, farmers protecting their poppy and marijuana plots shot at 39 helicopters from Mexico's anti-drug agency, known by its Spanish acronym FEADS, officials told Reuters on Wednesday during a flight to spray herbicides on poppy fields. "They left one helicopter like a sieve. They shot it 11 times," said Camilo Vega Rivera, FEADS' general director of poppy and marijuana eradication. One Mexican helicopter pilot was saved by his bullet-proof vest, and airborne anti-drug crews always are in danger of wires strung by poppy growers to disable helicopter blades. The front lines of Mexico's drug war are far from Washington, D.C., where the White House and Senate lawmakers will decide in the coming weeks whether to certify Mexico as an ally in the fight against illegal narcotics. According to U.S. estimates, roughly two-thirds of the cocaine that enters the country comes through its border with Mexico, and there are some U.S. lawmakers who want the Clinton administration to blacklist the Zedillo government. The weeks preceding U.S. "certification" have become an annual ritual in which Mexico slams the process as one-sided and reported drug seizures pick up notably. Decertification in the drug war can be politically humiliating and can mean a loss of financial and other assistance from the United States. U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey praised Mexico's drug eradication campaign at this week's Mexican drug summit attended by Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and U.S. President Bill Clinton. But Mexico is still expected to come under intense criticism by some in the U.S. Congress because drug seizures are down compared to last year, and there are questions about whether Mexico is really committed to fighting the problem. On Feb. 4, Mexican officials unveiled plans to spend up to $500 million over the next three years to stem the flow of narcotics through the country. Officials also say Mexico is at the "top of the world in the task of eradicating illicit plantations," with 43,100 acres (17,449 hectares) of opium destroyed in 1998. Mexico has roughly 123,500 acres (50,000 hectares) of opium poppies and marijuana plantations, according to government figures. Even though FEADS destroys about 85 percent of that a year, Herran said the growers replant immediately. During the flight on Wednesday, agents sprayed the herbicide paraquat on several farms near Chilpancingo, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, the country's main opium-producing state. The dry, scrubby, rugged terrain, warm climate, and sparse population of Guerrero make the area ideal for poppy growing. Vega told Reuters more than two dozen helicopters and airplanes are in the air every day, with army choppers hovering nearby to provide cover from hostile growers. Fumigation is the easiest way to attack the crops, but helicopters must make two to three low passes over fields to be effective. More than half the eradication programme is done by agents on the ground. Agents in Mexico's drug eradication programme are trained by U.S. drug officials. Mexico supplies only about five percent of the world's combined marijuana and opium, partly because the national eradication campaign is successful, Vega said. Vega said CIA satellite photos prove the eradication programme is highly successful. 
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