Mexican President to US: Fentanyl is your problem

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president said Thursday his country does not produce or consume fentanyl, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador appeared to portray the synthetic opioid epidemic largely as a US problem, and said the United States should use family values ​​to fight drug addiction.

His statement came during a visit by Liz Sherwood-Randall, the White House homeland security adviser, to Mexico to discuss the fentanyl crisis. It also comes amid calls by some US Republicans to use the US military to attack drug labs in Mexico.

The Mexican government has in the past acknowledged that fentanyl is manufactured in laboratories in Mexico using precursor chemicals imported from China. Fentanyl is thought to be responsible for approximately 70,000 opioid-related deaths each year in the United States.

“Here we don’t produce fentanyl and we don’t consume fentanyl,” López Obrador said. “Why don’t they (the United States) take care of their problem of social decline?”

He went on to list reasons Americans may be turning to fentanyl, including single parents, parents who throw adult children out of their homes, and people who take elderly relatives to retirement homes “and visit them once a year.”

His statement came in sharp contrast to a Thursday tweet from US Ambassador Ken Salazar, which said a meeting between Sherwood-Randall and Mexico’s Attorney General was intended to “improve security cooperation and fight the scourge of fentanyl, to better protect our two nations.”

There is little debate among US and even Mexican officials that nearly all fentanyl consumed in the United States is manufactured and processed in Mexico.

In February, the Mexican army announced it had seized more than half a million fentanyl pills from what they call the largest synthetic drug lab found to date. The army said the open-air lab was spotted in Culiacan, the state capital of Sinaloa.

In the same city, in 2021, the army raided a lab it said likely made about 70 million of the blue fentanyl pills for the Sinaloa cartel every month.

“The President is lying,” said Mexican security analyst David Saucedo. “The Mexican cartels, most notably the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel) and the Sinaloa cartel, have learned to make it.”

“They themselves buy the precursor chemicals, set up labs to make fentanyl, distribute it to cities across the United States, and sell it,” Saucedo said. “They have gradually started to establish a monopoly on fentanyl because the Mexican cartels are present all along the production and sales chain.”

While it’s true that fentanyl use in Mexico still appears to be low and largely confined to the northern border areas, that may be because the Mexican government is so bad at uncovering it. A 2019 study in the border city of Tijuana showed that 93% of methamphetamine and heroin samples there contained some fentanyl.

Saucedo said fentanyl exports to the US are so lucrative for Mexican cartels that they previously saw no need to develop a domestic market for the drug.

“It’s true that fentanyl use in Mexico is marginal, but some mid-size cartels have started selling it in border towns and in major cities like Leon, Mexico City and Monterrey,” Saucedo said.

On Wednesday, US Senator Lindsey Graham held a news conference and said he wanted to “unleash US anger and power against these cartels.”

“The second step we’re going to take is to give the military the power to go after these organizations wherever they exist,” Graham said. “Not to invade Mexico. Not to shoot down Mexican planes. But to destroy drug labs that are poisoning Americans.”

López Obrador said Mexico would not accept such threats, calling them “an insult to Mexico and a lack of respect for our independence and sovereignty”.

López threatened to launch a campaign in the United States urging local Mexicans and Hispanics not to vote Republican.

“We will call for people not to vote for this party because it is inhumane and interventionist,” said López Obrador.

Security analyst Alejandro Hope said López Obrador appears caught between his own “hugs, not bullets” strategy of not confronting cartels — which resonates well with his supporters — and mounting pressure from the US, especially Republicans. Portraying himself as a defender of Mexico’s sovereignty has been easy for López Obrador in the past.

Hope said Mexico’s president may not be aware of how much of a conservative rallying cry the issue of declaring Mexican cartel terrorist organizations in 2024 could become, like former President Donald Trump’s call for a border wall in 2016.

“It’s the wall, version 2024,” Hope said. “He (López Obrador) believes that everyone is as willing to do business as Trump is, but many of them (Republicans) are much more ideological.”

“The problem is that it puts the Biden administration in a terrible position, it puts them between Republican intransigence and López Obrador intransigence,” Hope said.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s top diplomat, wrote on his Twitter account on Thursday that proposals like Graham’s would be “disastrous for bilateral counter-narcotics cooperation.”

“They (Republicans) know that the fentanyl epidemic originated not in Mexico but in the United States,” Ebrard wrote. “You know that fentanyl is being worked on now more than ever.”

Mexicans, both in and out of government, are clearly concerned about an increase in fentanyl use in Mexico. A citizens’ group has launched a wall-painting campaign with the slogan “Mxsinfentanilo” – “Mexico without fentanyl” – and López Obrador has launched a series of anti-drug TV spots.

But once again, López Obrador’s government appears to be viewing fentanyl as a US problem.

In the ads that ran in November, the Mexican government used videos of homeless people and drug users outdoors in Philadelphia’s embattled Kensington neighborhood to discourage young people from taking drugs. Mexican President to US: Fentanyl is your problem

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