Harvesting opium is a dead end job. “There is nothing for us; no opportunities,” says Angelica Guerrero Ortega, who at 15 earns in a day what both of her parents make in a week.
Children tread the inclines of Sierra Madre del Sur along strokes of green, pink, and purple. The massive poppy field covers much of the mountainside, shielding hardy opium crops from the elements, both of nature and of law. Drug cartels in the state of Guerrero hire children like Angelica to work the fields and sate the demands of junkies north of the border. In 2014 alone, production rose by 50%, as farmers turn to opium cultivation and American substance abusers look for cheaper highs.
Angelica and her schoolmates maintain that opium harvesting is the best option for them, even if it meant forgoing their education in order to keep earning money. There’s peace in their craft — working with flowers amid Mexico’s most violent state, where factions spill blood on essentially ungoverned land. Parents would work the fields in a heartbeat, if the terrain, 1.8 miles above sea level, wasn’t so unwelcoming of their adult frames. “There is no real order here. We are governed by narcos,” comments one farmer.
Besides the murderous resilience of the cartels and the contingent powerlessness of law enforcers, the thriving opium industry owes its success to an impeccable, symbiotic, producer-consumer relationship between the Mexico and the U.S. Opium consumption is near non-existent within the communities that produce them, as they see no appeal to the drug at all.
Jose Luis Garcia, a local farmer, certainly believes people on the other end of the trade are to blame. “The fault is not with those who cultivate the opium; it’s with the idiots who consume it.” Unfortunately, the only solution to idiocy is education — the one thing drugs deny from children on both sides of the border.