Guatemala is no longer just a conduit for illegal drugs, but a center of production, Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said, citing the seizure of 17.6 tons of coca paste apparently destined for cocaine labs in the Central American nation.

The contraband was discovered aboard a cargo ship that set sail from Taiwan and made a stop in Panama before arriving in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, on July 16.

The appearance of the first known consignment of coca paste in the Central American country "changes the idea that Guatemala was only used for transit," Lopez said in statements published by Prensa Libre and Siglo Veintiuno newspapers.

"Now we know there is a Plan B, which consists of producing the cocaine in its final phase in the places near the markets," the minister said.

"Guatemala stopped being a place of drug transit and now has become a producer of narcotics, and proof of that has been the clandestine laboratories discovered and destroyed," he said.

The coca paste seized at Puerto Quetzal may have belonged to Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel, Lopez suggested.

Challenging the minister's interpretation, political analyst Miguel Angel Sandoval said the drug labs detected so far were neither large enough or numerous enough to be able to say that Guatemala has joined the ranks of drug producers.

The coca paste was disguised as a shipment of varnish bound for an import firm in Guatemala City.

While authorities have yet to quantify the value of the consignment, Lopez called the seizure "a tough blow" to drug trafficking. 

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