| ANTIGUA, Guatemala
ANTIGUA, Guatemala May 13 Guatemala is
considering subsidizing alternative crops for poppy farmers in
order to curb the production of narcotics and raise funds for
social programs, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
The government could offer seeds for potatoes, corn and peas
to farmers who grow poppies in northwestern Guatemala along the
border with Mexico, where powerful drug cartels buy the plants
and convert them into heroin, said Eunice Mendizabal,
anti-narcotics deputy minister.
The Central American nation, with tight budget constraints,
spends close to $2 million annually eliminating poppy plants. It
is struggling to contain cartels that use the isthmus as a
transit point to ship drugs to the United States.
"Every time we perform an operation to eradicate poppies,
that area becomes more conflictive," Mendizabal told Reuters at
a conference to discuss alternatives to the drug war.
"The idea is to bring together all the commissions (studying
drug alternatives) and see if we can subsidize alternative
crops," said Mendizabal, who added that the government has
studied subsidy programs in other countries.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez said in April that the
government could present a plan at the end of 2014 to legalize
and tax the production of marijuana and of poppies for medicinal
use in order to wrest control of the country from organized
crime and fund social spending.
Opium poppies are used to make opium and heroin, as well as
pharmaceutical drugs such as morphine and codeine.
The plan is part of a broader shift across Latin America
away from the huge financial and social costs of the U.S.-backed
war on drugs.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla told Reuters this
month Guatemala was considering taxing the sale of opium poppies
to help fund drug prevention programs.
(Editing by David Alire Garcia, Simon Gardner and Dan Grebler)