"We are very concerned about the increase in fentanyl production in Mexico,"* a United States diplomatic source whom I had a conversation with in mid-September told me regarding the state of the bilateral relationship.
It had seemed that, once the migration crisis was overcome, things were running smoothly, but the diplomatic source stressed that the synthetic drug is killing an average of 76 people a day in the United States, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Until two years ago, Mexico was principally a transit point for the chemical precursors to produce fentanyl, a narcotic 50 times more potent than heroin and 10 times cheaper to produce. From one kilogram of fentanyl come half a million doses to be sold on the street for $20 each.
Yet, in a short time, our country has become an important center for the production of a drug that does not need showy trafficking operations since its potency allows small quantities to be sent to the United States through package delivery services. Fentanyl's characteristics have also made unnecessary the distribution systems that cocaine, heroin and other drugs require because users can purchase it directly over the internet and receive it by mail in their homes.
A good portion of those packages and letters pass through a mail reception center at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where United States agents have made some discoveries. The problem is so serious that last June** Rep. Max Rose criticized the United States government for not stopping fentanyl at JFK and allowing it to flood the district he represents, the 11th District of New York, where overdoses have become an epidemic.
"We’re looking at 0.01 percent of mail being screened ... and they have not shown any sense of urgency," Rose pointed out. "It is like looking for a needle in a haystack," is the response from the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies that have to look for the drug among nearly 1 million shipments that arrive daily at the airport.
On Oct. 3, I posted on this blog about this issue under the title "Fentanyl, the Next Conflict with the United States." I mentioned the discovery of five clandestine drug laboratories between December 2018 and August 2019, three of them in Sinaloa.
"This is a new reason for the United States to complain to Mexico that will soon make a forceful appearance in the information media," I predicted. That happened barely two weeks after the publication of these words.
Yesterday, in his column, our fellow journalist, Jorge Fernández Menéndez, revealed that the authorities had been pursuing Ovidio Guzmán López, son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, for almost a month.
"The reason," Jorge explained in detail, "is that Ovidio controlled the laboratories for processing fentanyl in Culiacán, one of which had been discovered weeks before. This drug has been sent to the United States and has caused thousands of deaths in that country."
Jorge is right. As I wrote here, that laboratory was found on Aug. 15 in Colonia la Conquista, around five kilometers (3.1 miles) from where Ovidio Guzmán was arrested on Thursday, Oct. 17. Some 2,500 pills of the drug were seized. Fentanyl has become a lucrative business for the Sinaloa cartel and has allowed it to survive pressure from their rivals.
The episode of the failed detention of Ovidio Guzmán demonstrates the pressure to which the government of Mexico is subject from the United States, which, in turn, is under the scrutiny of legislators like Rose.
"We wonder why people hate government," the congressman blurted out, on learning that his recommendations to track the drug had not been addressed. "I’ll make sure to pass on that next time I have to go to a funeral from someone who’s overdosed."
*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.
**Editor’s note: Rep. Rose’s comments were made July 25, 2019.