Mexico’s president asserted Thursday that his country does not manufacture or consume fentanyl, despite evidence to the contrary, and suggested that the synthetic opioid epidemic is largely an American problem that should be addressed in that country.
“Here we do not produce fentanyl and we do not consume fentanyl. And we are very sorry for what is happening in the United States,” said Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “Why don’t they fight the distribution of fentanyl in the United States? …. Why don’t you attend to your young people?”
The president made these statements during his morning conference just before meeting with Liz Sherwood-Randall, White House National Security Advisor, who is visiting Mexico precisely to discuss the crisis caused by this drug.
The pronouncement also coincides with calls by US Republicans to use the US military to attack drug laboratories in Mexico.
The Mexican government has acknowledged in the past that fentanyl is produced in laboratories in Mexico with precursor chemicals imported from China. In fact, among the US and even Mexican authorities it is hardly disputed that almost all the fentanyl consumed in the United States is processed in Mexico.
In February, the Mexican military announced that it had seized more than half a million fentanyl pills in what it called the largest synthetic drug laboratory discovered to date. The army said the open-air laboratory was discovered in Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa.
In the same city, in 2021, the army raided a laboratory that, according to their estimates, manufactured some 70 million fentanyl pills a month for the Sinaloa cartel.
Some 70,000 annual deaths from opioids in the United States are attributed to fentanyl, and official Mexican institutions also speak of incipient use in Mexican border cities.
López Obrador insisted that part of the blame for the crisis that the United States is experiencing with fentanyl is due to the lack of policies to attend to consumers, single-parent families or the “serious problem of social decomposition.”
The president’s words contrasted with those of the US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, on Twitter, where he said that the meeting between Sherwood-Randall and the Mexican attorney general was aimed at “improving security cooperation and fighting the scourge of #fentanyl to better protect our two nations.”
For the Mexican security analyst David Saucedo, it is clear that “the president is lying” with the statements made on Thursday.
“The Mexican cartels, especially the CJNG (Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel learned to manufacture it,” he explained. “They buy the chemical precursors themselves, set up laboratories, manufacture the fentanyl, take it to cities in the United States and sell it,” he said.
“Little by little they have begun to create a fentanyl monopoly, since the Mexican drug traffickers are present throughout the production and marketing chain,” added Saucedo.
While it is true that use of this drug remains low in Mexico and largely confined to the northern border areas, that may be because the Mexican government is unable to detect it. A 2019 study in the border city of Tijuana showed that 93% of methamphetamine and heroin samples there contained some fentanyl.
Saucedo indicated that fentanyl exports were so lucrative for Mexican cartels that in the past they had not seen much need to develop a domestic market, although they have already begun to sell it in some cities such as the capital, León (in the state of Guanajuato, in the center of the country) or Monterrey, in the north.
Regardless of these data, the president insists that the issue is used for propaganda purposes.
US Senator Lindsey Graham told a news conference Wednesday that the military had to be given the authority to go after the cartels, wherever they are. “Not to invade Mexico, not to shoot down Mexican planes, but to destroy drug laboratories that are poisoning Americans,” he stressed.
López Obrador celebrated that this is not the position of the Joe Biden government but, even so, he affirmed that he would not accept such threats, an insult to Mexico and its sovereignty. In fact, he said that he would be willing to launch a campaign in the United States to ask Mexicans and Hispanics who live there not to vote Republican.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope considered that López Obrador is caught between his own “hugs, not bullets” strategy and the growing pressure from the United States, especially from the Republicans, and he seems not to realize to what extent the issue of declaring The cartels, terrorist organizations, could become an electoral issue for the 2024 presidential elections, as was the case in 2016 with the construction of the border wall.
“The problem is that you put the Biden administration in a terrible dilemma … Between the intransigence of the Republicans and the intransigence of López Obrador,” Hope said.
Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard described proposals like Graham’s as “catastrophic for binational anti-drug cooperation.” “They know that the fentanyl pandemic does not originate in Mexico but in the US,” he wrote Thursday on his Twitter account. “They know that work is being done like never before against fentanyl. They will not prosper.”
Mexicans, both in government and outside of it, clearly fear that fentanyl use will increase, as demonstrated by a campaign of messages painted on walls with the slogan “Mxsinfentanilo” — Mexico without fentanyl — launched by a social group or the campaign of television commercials organized by the government.
In that initiative, the Mexican government used videos of homeless people and drug users to try to scare young people away from drugs, but the recordings were made in the troubled Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, implying that the problem was north of the border.