Guatemala finds coca plantations and labs, admits now a producing nation
By Sofia Menchu GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan security forces found and destroyed large coca plantations and two cocaine processing laboratories, police said on Thursday, a development that shows cocaine production is spreading closer to the United States from Andean nations.
By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan security forces found and destroyed large coca plantations and two cocaine processing laboratories, police said on Thursday, a development that shows cocaine production is spreading closer to the United States from Andean nations.
The discovery of about 1.3 million coca plants in tropical hills prompted Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart to admit Guatemala was now a cocaine producing nation and not just a transit point for drug traffickers.
Until recently, the crop was almost exclusively cultivated in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
Guatemalan authorities made the discovery after the government gave emergency powers to the military in eastern Guatemala in response to the murder of three soldiers earlier this month. At the time, the government 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.
The new plantations contain 17 times as many bushes.
Authorities declined to comment on which criminal groups they believed were involved.
Since the state of emergency was put in place 342 people have been detained and 57 motorcycles, 38 other vehicles and 52 firearms seized, while two cocaine processing labs were destroyed, police said in a statement.
Guatemala, one of the poorest and most gang-ravaged countries in the Americas, has long been a major transit country for cocaine. Traffickers have achieved influence over political parties and in some cases territorial control.
Despite support from the United States and some success in interdicting drug shipments at sea, Guatemala has struggled to control the traffickers. Making cocaine locally could provide gangs with increased revenue.
"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," Degenhart said.
The United States has long included Guatemala on a list of major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries, but until recently it had only been known for plantations of the poppies used to make heroin and as a transit point for cocaine.
Authorities detected small coca fields in Central America last year - 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, the main market for narcotics.
Guatemala made its first official discovery of a field of coca plants in May 2018, following an initial find of a plot in Honduras the year earlier.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Grant McCool)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.