Friday, July 15, 2011
Mexican soldiers discovered one of the largest marijuana plantations ever found in the country, just 200 miles south of San Diego, California, USA, the Mexican Defense Ministry said on Thursday 14th July 2011.
Mexican officials said on Thursday, 14th July 2011 that the plantation, in Baja California, stretched as far as the eye could see, totaling some 120 hectares (296 acres).
The crop would yield about 120 metric tons and be worth an estimated USD$160 million, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Video of the plantation showed a sophisticated system of piped-in irrigation to support the plants, some of which were several feet tall, according to the Associated Press. The plantation was shielded by a black screen.
The army didn't say whether anyone was arrested. When it finds fields, the crop is typically cut and burned.
Mexico's army hailed the find as the biggest marijuana plantation ever found in the country, saying the field was four times the size of a notorious bust in 1984 at a ranch called "El Bufalo" in northern Chihuahua state.
But experts questioned the military's claim, saying the Bufalo field was far bigger.
Several Mexican press reports say El Bufalo stretched for 540 hectares (1,344 acres), quoting officials at the time.
Press reports from the time also said police found anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 tons of marijuana at the ranch—worth more than USD $3.2 billion to USD $8 billion in today's prices.
"There's no comparison between the two busts—El Bufalo was far bigger," said Alberto Islas, a security expert based in Mexico City.
Mexico's army could be talking up the bust as a way to boost moral given the continuing violence surrounding Mexico's drug war, Mr. Islas said.
A Mexican official said that the Bufalo plantation was a series of 13 different fields and that this week's find was bigger than any individual field found in the 1984 bust.
More than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took power in December 2006 and launched a crackdown on powerful drug traffickers.
Mexico is the world's biggest producer of marijuana, with the U.S. a close second, according to United Nations figures.
Although no one knows exactly how much drug gangs in Mexico make from marijuana, most experts say the figure is at least several billion dollars a year—a large piece of their overall revenue.
Seizures of marijuana by Mexico's army have increased in the past years, rising to 866,000 kilos last year versus 590,000 kilos in 2007.
But seizures of cocaine are way down, something analysts say is an unintended consequence of focusing so many troops on fighting traffickers themselves, leaving less time in finding their illicit products.
The El Bufalo bust in 1984 is a hallmark in Mexico's drug wars. Experts say it was thanks to undercover work by Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena that the field was found.
The drug-dealer who owned the property, Rafael Caro Quintero, was later charged with the 1985 torture-murder of Mr. Camarena and his pilot Alfredo Zavala