Latin American illicit drug business

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Fentanyl and post-truth politics

Populist leaders like Trump on the right or AMLO on the left are notorious for creating an electorally focused narrative which disregards any inconvenient facts. AMLO remains remarkably popular (60%-plus approval ratings in the fifth out of his six years in office). This in part reflects his strong communications skills, delivered through extended daily morning press conferences known as mañaneras. A feature of these is that he makes many unsubstantiated claims - another way of saying that he tells untruths – so as to create a favourable ‘spin’. He is of course not the only politician within or beyond Latin America who does so.

In the case of fentanyl, a key part of AMLO’s narrative is to claim that, against all hard evidence to the contrary, it is simply not produced in Mexico and is a US problem essentially caused by US decadence and weak family values. In April for example, the Mexican president said: “Here, we do not produce fentanyl, and we do not have consumption of fentanyl. Why don’t they [the United States] take care of their problems of social decay?” AMLO went on to list reasons why he thought US citizens might be turning to the drug, including the existence of single parent families, parents who force their grown children to leave their home, and people who put elderly relatives in old-age homes “and visit them once a year”. While politically on the left, this reflects the fact that AMLO is at heart a social conservative. Referring to the US, AMLO has said: “There is a lot of disintegration of families, there is a lot of individualism, there is a lack of love, of brotherhood, of hugs and embraces.”

AMLO has insisted on this view despite the consensus among most US and Mexican analysts that almost all the fentanyl consumed in the United States is now produced and processed in Mexico, using precursor chemicals supplied from China. In February of this year the army said it had seized more than half a million fentanyl pills in a raid in Culiacán, Sinaloa, in what it described as the largest synthetic drug lab yet discovered. How this could happen in a country with “zero fentanyl production” was not explained. More recently, in August 2023, AMLO suggested US data on fentanyl is contradictory, saying “that’s a problem that they have, with all due respect in the US government. There is no coordination between themselves.” The Mexican president has also used his catchphrase when presented with any information that portrays his administration in a poor light: yo tengo otros datos (‘I have other information’).  

Mexican security analyst David Saucedo concludes bluntly that “the president is lying. The Mexican cartels, above all the CJNG and the Sinaloa cartel, have learned to manufacture it…they themselves buy the precursor chemicals, set up laboratories and distribute it to cities in the US.” Saucedo also said that the cartels were “little by little” building a fentanyl monopoly as they had taken a presence “along the whole chain of production and sales”.

US officials take the same view. Anne Milgram, a DEA director, said that CJNG and Sinaloa cartels are responsible for “virtually all” the fentanyl and methamphetamine consumed in the United States. She has said: “They buy precursor chemicals from China, ship them to Mexico, mass-produce fentanyl, use much of it to make fake pills, and then smuggle it into the United States by land, sea, and air.” Another official, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Todd Robinson, also confirmed that fentanyl is produced in Mexico adding “I’ve seen it myself”. Robinson claimed nevertheless that, despite public disagreements over where the drug is being manufactured, anti-narcotics cooperation between the two countries is “very good”.

Fentanyl flows through Mexico

Source: InSight Crime

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