On an overflight of mountains bordering the U.S. this week, the pilots of a Mexican helicopter noticed a colorful patch of ground that seemed out of place in the prevalent foliage below. Suspecting something amiss, the crew from the Baja California State Secretariat of Public Safety notified fellow state police officers. After hiking into isolated terrain situated about 10 miles from the Tijuana-Tecate highway, law enforcement agents came across a surprise. Near the village of Valle de las Palmas, they discovered thousands of opium poppy plants growing on about seven acres of land.
In their inspection, the officers uncovered two encampments apparently set up for care-takers, as well as six wells used to pump groundwater for irrigating the poppy crop. Officials estimated that the illicit farm was capable of yielding enough poppies to produce more than 65 pounds of heroin, an amount which was valued at $2.13 million in the U.S. market.
The big poppy patch was considered the first of its size ever discovered in Baja California. “This is not very common,” said Marco Antonio Montoya Gomez, director of the Baja California State Preventative Police. “There are antecedents with regards to the presence of opium poppies, but not in these quantities.”
Typically, Mexican opium poppies for the heroin trade are cultivated in the so-called Golden Triangle of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango, or in Pacific coastal states to the south. The southern state of Guerrero has long been regarded as Mexico’s number one producer of opium poppies.
With the help of Mexican soldiers, Baja California state police personnel reportedly went to work destroying the Valle de las Palmas opium field.
“Despite the rough terrain and high temperatures that were registered yesterday (May 13), the state preventative police officers stayed in order to rip up and burn all the plants which were encountered at the site,” Montoya said.
No suspects were reported detained in the drug raid. It was not immediately known if crops had been previously harvested at the Valle de las Palmas site.
Sources: El Sol de Tijuana, May 14 and 15, 2013. Articles by Manuel Cordero and Daniel Angel. Frontera.info, May 14, 2013.