Fentanyl isn’t produced in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently said. But this week, the head of the nation’s National Guard announced that more than seven tons of the deadly synthetic opioid, which each year kills tens of thousands of Americans in drug overdoses, was seized in the last five years.
“Fentanyl is not produced in Mexico. It is imported from Asia and it arrives in Mexico, United States and Canada,” López Obrador said during a recent morning conference.
But David Córdova Campos of the National Guard told the media on June 27 that the country’s military has busted 1,740 illegal laboratories since 2018.
“This year alone the seizures of fentanyl in the country accounted for 1,725 kilograms, totaling 7,565 kilograms over the past five years,” Córdova Campos said.
During López Obrador’s administration, authorities have also seized nearly 3 tons of methamphetamine.
The U.S government has long emphasized the amount of fentanyl currently being produced by Mexico’s powerful drug cartels, calling the country “the principal pathway for fentanyl” into the U.S.
“Our Department of Homeland Security is working directly with the Mexican military, which has been assigned the duty—the Navy in particular—of interdicting the arrival of fentanyl into Mexico,” Homeland Security adviser, Liz Sherwood Randall said during an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations.
But the Mexican President could be playing with words. Although pure fentanyl, or the chemicals to make it, can be imported from Asia, groups including the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel then process it into products like heroin, as well as counterfeit “Oxys” and “Xanax” pills. Operatives inside the Sinaloa Cartel don’t deny the production of fentanyl in Mexico.
“We produce fenta [fentanyl] in Sinaloa, but it probably only amounts to 30 or 35 percent of what we smuggle to the other side [of the border with the U.S.] The majority we import it from China or Germany and we process it here,” a Sinaloa Cartel operative told VICE News.
Recent reports from local media outlets in Sinaloa flagged a brief halt in fentanyl production, allegedly by orders of Iván Archivaldo Guzmán, the oldest of the four sons of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, collectively known as “Los Chapitos”.
“We were warned to stop cooking fentanyl or we would have to face the consequences. That is why at this moment no one is producing fentanyl, everything is on standby,” an alleged cartel member told local newspaper Río Doce on June 13.
But the operative speaking with VICE News said that fentanyl production resumed a few days after.
“It was something temporary, because the government was around the area where Los Chapitos have their [fentanyl] labs,” the operative said. “Business is back to normal.”
Los Chapitos recently denied any involvement in the production of fentanyl and asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to “leave them alone.”
“We have never worked with fentanyl, although there are many in Sinaloa that do produce it, and that’s why we have seen the recent seizures. But those laboratories have a name and a last name. Do some research. You would only need to send a single agent to Sinaloa,” the Guzmáns wrote in a letter sent to a prominent Mexican journalist on May 4.
Ovidio Guzmán, the youngest son of “El Chapo” was captured in January in a gunfight between hundreds of his henchmen and the Mexican army in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, cradle of the eponymous cartel.
This week the U.S. authorities announced the “first prosecutions to charge China-based chemical manufacturing companies and nationals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for trafficking fentanyl precursor chemicals.”
“These companies and individuals are alleged to have knowingly supplied drug traffickers, in the United States and Mexico, with the ingredients and scientific know-how needed to make fentanyl,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.