Guatemala Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart admitted this week that the country isn't just a transit point for drug traffickers - they are now a cocaine producing nation too, according to Reuters, which notes that production has almost exclusively been limited to Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
Degenhart's comments were prompted by the discovery of around 1.3 million cocoa plants in the country's tropical hillsides after the government gave emergency powers to the military in the eastern region of the country after the murder of three soldiers earlier this month. Authorities said the soldiers were ambushed by drug traffickers.
The coca plants were found in remote stretches of the municipalities of Livingston on the Caribbean coast and El Estor, which sits on a lake popular with tourists and is where the soldiers were killed.
“The plantations were located in a mountainous area, which took three hours to get to on foot,” police spokesman Jorge Aguilar told Reuters.
Aguilar said he did not know how much territory the plantations covered. Last year, Reuters reported that a one hectare “trial” plantation containing 75,000 coca plants had been found in Guatemala. -Reuters
Guatemalan authorities declined to state which criminal groups they believed were involved in the production.
Since declaring the state of emergency, authorities have arrested 342 people and seized 57 motorcycles, 38 other vehicles and 52 firearms. Two cocaine processing labs were also destroyed according to a police statement.
The country has long been a major transit route for cocaine and other drugs, as traffickers have bought significant influence over authorities at all levels of government. As such, Guatemala has had great difficulty controlling the traffickers despite the support of the United States.
"Following the discovery of these narco-laboratories and the different fields with the coca plants, Guatemala now becomes a cocaine producer and that puts Guatemala in a totally different situation with respect to regional security," said Degenhart.
The crops were discovered after authorities found small cocoa fields in the country - which were "apparent trials by drug trafficking cartels to explore reducing transportation costs and the risks of moving the product from distant Andean nations to the United States."