A unique museum in Mexico offers a peek into the notorious drug trafficking as well as gives an idea to students in military colleges about how trafficking is handled.
As Mexican drug traffickers spread their influence from Peru to Panama and contribute to their country's spiralling murder rate with more than 5,000 killed in suspected drug-related attacks this year the Mexico City drug museum is expanding.
Advertisement"The aim of the museum is to teach military students about how the army carries out the fight against drug trafficking and also how criminals carry out trafficking," said curator major Mario Ayala Lopez.
From hallucinogenic cacti used in pre-hispanic religious rituals to opium first brought from China in the 1920s and more modern chemical drugs, the museum, inside the capital's defense ministry, educates viewers about Mexico's increasing drug use, production and trafficking.
"It was a very small room and little by little it grew to what it is today," Lopez said of the 10-room museum which began more than 20 years ago, and is updated after significant drug raids.
Rows of transparent containers holding powders, roots and leaves, including marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin line up in one room, for a first view of the drugs for many visitors.
"Many students coming out of military schools are very young 17 or 18 years old and they don't know the drugs," said Lopez.
Beside Mexico's strategic position between the cocaine producers of South America and the massive US drug market, the country's mountainous terrain helps traffickers to hide and the industry to flourish.
Mass production of opium poppies and marijuana began in the mid-1960s in northwestern Sinaloa state, in an area known as the golden triangle, and expanded down the Pacific coast.
Chemistry equipment to make opium, heat lamps to dry marijuana leaves and multi-headed poppies created with new technology lie side by side in one room.
"The problem has been around since the 1970s but changes to try to improve production have been seen in the last seven to eight years," Lopez said.
The latest government eradication and anti-trafficking campaign began at the start of Felipe Calderon's presidency almost two years ago, and involves land, sea and air operations.
Foot soldiers comb fields of maize and beans to seek hidden marijuana or opium poppy plantations, sometimes stumbling on hand-written messages on large banners or scraps of paper from farmers pleading for their crops to be saved.
"Please don't touch my field!" reads one message in a display case.
Mexican country music blares out from a radio in the corner of one room, where a model farmer sits in a field of poppies, with beer cans scattered at his feet.
The scene aims to teach students to avoid being fooled by apparently normal situations.
"Most of the people appear normal but they're looking after the plants, they're the ones who warn (the traffickers) that the soldiers are coming," Lopez said.
Examples of containers where drugs have been found include clay vases, beer crates and telephone directories. A photograph shows a man after surgery to remove drug packets from his backside.
"Sometimes it bothers them (the students) to search everywhere. But when they see everything that has been found, it bothers them less," Lopez said.
Different drug routes snake up a map of the hook-shaped country toward the United States, from Central America by land and both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Models show ships and buoys carrying tons of drugs waiting to be collected on lines trailing deep under the sea.
Another room devoted to the famously flamboyant narco-culture displays diamond- and gold-incrusted telephones and guns, engraved weapons and even a large wooden front door carved with a picture of a marijuana field.
Mannequins compare and contrast the look of a 1970s-style drug trafficker, wearing gold chains and designer sunglasses, with a contemporary model, dressed in sober-looking, but bullet-proof, clothes.
"Traffickers used to be more obvious, although now they still have hidden gold weapons," Lopez said.
Another display explains the cult of Malverde, a bandit from the 19th century transformed into a drug trafficking saint.
Meanwhile, as the death toll continues to rise, plaques and medals highlight those killed in anti-drug missions a total of 570 since 1976, including 67 between the start of the latest operation, on December 1, 2006, and October 15, 2008.
"It's always been dangerous. There are simply more activities today, it's growing," Lopez said.
The next plan for the museum is a mural of all aspects of the drug industry, in the Mexican artistic tradition and underscoring the impact of drugs on the country.