- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

LAZARO CARDENAS, Mexico — Soldiers trying to seize control of one Mexico’s top drug-producing regions say they found the countryside teeming with a new hybrid marijuana plant that can be cultivated all year and cannot be killed with herbicides.

Soldiers fanned out across some of the new fields this week, pulling up plants by the root and burning them, as helicopter gunships clattered overhead to give them cover from a raging drug war in the western state of Michoacan. The plants’ roots survive if they are doused with herbicide, said army Gen. Manuel Garcia.

“These plants have been genetically improved,” he told a small number of journalists allowed to accompany soldiers Tuesday on a daylong raid of 70 or so marijuana fields. “Before, we could cut the plant and destroy it. But this plant will come back to life unless it’s taken out by the roots.”

The new plants, known as “Colombians,” mature in about two months and can be planted at any time of year, meaning authorities will no longer be able to time raids to coincide with twice-yearly harvests.

The hybrid first appeared in Mexico two years ago but has become the plant of choice for drug traffickers in Michoacan, a remote mountainous region that lends itself to drug production.

Yields are so high that traffickers can now produce as much marijuana on a plot the size of a football field as they used to harvest on 10 to 12 acres.

“For each 100 [marijuana plots] that you spot from the air, there are 300 to 500 more that you discover once you get on the ground,” Gen. Garcia said.

The raids were part of President Felipe Calderon’s new offensive to restore order in his home state of Michoacan and fight drug violence that has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Mexico this year.

In Michoacan, officials say the Valencia and Gulf cartels have been battling over lucrative marijuana plantations and smuggling routes for cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States. In one incident, gunmen stormed into a bar and dumped five human heads on the dance floor.

The president, who took office Dec. 1, sent 7,000 soldiers and federal officers to Michoacan last week.

Officials have arrested 45 persons, including several suspected leaders of the feuding cartels. They also seized three yachts, 2.2 pounds of gold, bulletproof vests, military equipment and shirts with federal and municipal police logos.

In the past week, soldiers and federal police have found 1,795 marijuana fields covering 585 acres in Michoacan, security officials said.

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