The Role of Mexico’s Drug Cartels in the U.S. Fentanyl Crisis

 

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

05/13/19- (written by Aitanna Ferrez) The surge of opioid overdoses in the United States has killed tens of thousands of people in recent years and, according to the New York Times, has become the leading cause of death for U.S. citizens under the age of 55.  In particular, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and has been a major contributor to the crisis. Fentanyl is often used by drug traffickers and dealers as an additive to enhance the effect of other drugs, including heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and even counterfeit prescription drugs. In recent years, numerous opioid deaths have been attributed to the proliferation of fentanyl, because even small variations in quantity can lead to overdoses.

 

Historically, fentanyl has been predominantly manufactured in China and often directly shipped to the United States. Mexican drug cartels have predominantly functioned as intermediaries in the distribution of fentanyl. Following an April 1st decision by the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission to regulate fentanyl and all chemically similar variants as a class of controlled substances, it is possible that Mexican cartels will now become more important suppliers of illicit fentanyl. According to an InSight Crime report focused on the severity of Mexico’s contribution to the deadly rise of fentanyl, Mexico has become not only a major transit country, but also a key production point for fentanyl and its chemical variants. Furthermore, Insight Crime’s investigation shows that Mexican traffickers appear to be playing a role in the distribution of fentanyl within the United States, with Mexico’s two largest criminal organizations—the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)—being the two most prominent purveyors of the drug. According to the report, these and other Mexican criminal organizations continue to transport and distribute fentanyl using the same routes employed for other illicit drugs.

 

According to the Insight Crime report, the Mexican government “does not see fentanyl as an important issue yet and has not devoted significant resources towards finding the principal drivers of the trade inside its borders.” This is a serious concern given the degree to which fentanyl is dramatically reshaping the illicit drug trade. Simultaneously, this is having disastrous effects in Mexican drug producing regions, according to a report produced by the Wilson Center, NORIA, and Justice in Mexico. This report emphasizes that with “the upsurge in fentanyl use, the demand for Mexican heroin has sharply fallen,” causing village economies to “dry up” and “out migration” on the upward trend. Altogether, the report highlights the how a modernization of Mexico’s drug policies would solve problems to a wealth of unanswered questions and help bring marginalized regions into the country for good.

 

The new paradigm, created by the rise of fentanyl, may require Mexico and the United States to move away from past approaches dealing with drugs. As fentanyl begins to atomize the market, it will be more difficult to identify and arrest major traffickers like Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, a practice that has not been particularly effective in preventing drug use. According to Insight Crime founder Steven Dudley in a contribution to Foreign Affairs Magazine, “Dealing with illicit drugs requires a holistic approach dedicated to understanding the complexity of drug use and its ripple effects on everything from the rule of law to democracy.”

 

Sources:

Dudley, Steven, et al. “Mexico’s Role in the Deadly Rise of Fentanyl – Investigation.” InSight Crime, Wilson Center: Mexico Institute, Feb. 2019

Dudley, Steven. “The End of the Big Cartels.” Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs Magazine, 4 Mar. 2019, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/2019-02-27/end-big-cartels

Hassan, Adeel. “Deaths From Drugs and Suicide Reach a Record in the U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Mar. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/us/deaths-drugs-suicide-record.html

Le Cour Grandmaison, Romain, et al. “The U.S. Fentanyl Boom and the Mexican Opium Crisis: Finding Opportunities Amidst Violence?” Wilson Center, 12 Feb. 2019, www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-us-fentanyl-boom-and-the-mexican-opium-crisis-finding-opportunities-amidst-violence.

 

 

 

 

 

April 2018: News Brief

 

05/05/18 (written by Genesis Lopez)-

Discover the important headlines in Mexico from April 2018.

 

Film Students are killed and dissolved in acid

 

Source: Twitter (Excelsior)

Source: Twitter 

In March of 2018, three film students- Javier Salomón Aceves Gastélum, Daniel Díaz, and Marco Ávalos were last seen in the municipality of Tonalá, Jalisco. The three students were originally reported missing until news broke last week informing the public that they were in fact tortured and murdered. Authorities interviewed over 400 people, allowing them to better understand what happened to the students leading up to their deaths. It is reported that the three students were filming in a safe house belonging to the Cartel Nueva Plaza, the rivals of Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG). They were confused with members of the rival cartel, leading them to be kidnapped and tortured by armed suspects. The students were taken to another safe house where they were dissolved in acid.

The investigation continues to stay open and has led the authorities to various possible suspects, including rapper QBA, also known as Ciro Gómez Leyva. QBA confessed to working with the CJNG and told officials he was in charge of putting the bodies in acid. The news prompted a response nationwide. The governor of Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz, expressed his solidarity to the families who were affected and promised to keep the investigation open until they apprehend all those who were involved.

Sources:

Luna, Adriana, “Fiscalía confirma muerte de estudiantes desaparecidos en Jalisco.” Excelsior. April 23, 2018.

Estudiantes desaparecidos en Jalisco, asesinados y disueltos en ácido.” Forbes Mexico. April 24, 2018.

Luna, Adriana, “Rapero ‘QBA’ fue el encargado de disolver cuerpos de los tres estudiantes: fiscal.” Excelsior. April 25, 2018.

 

Green Party Candidate is Murdered in Morelia

 

Source: Maribel Barajas Cortés Facebook (Excelsior)

Source: Maribel Barajas Cortés Facebook 

On April 11, 2018 in Michoacán, Maribel Barajas Cortés was found dead in a ranch located in a vicinity of Las Flores, Morelia. She was a candidate of the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, PVEM) and was running to be a local representative. In a public report, the Office of the State Attorney General stated that her death was caused by 8 wounds and a hard hit to the head. In the days following the murder, the authorities investigated this case by tracking footage of Maribel’s car, which ultimately led them to the house of a woman named Aurora.

In due course, Aurora “N” was apprehended for being connected to the femicide of Maribel Cortés. The Attorney General said that Aurora “N” was supposedly contracted by Maribel to assassinate her current boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. The two allegedly agreed to meet and subsequently, negotiated a deal wherein Maribel was to give Aurora 10 million pesos and her car in exchange for the murder of her boyfriend’s former partner. However, the negotiations were derailed, ultimately leading to the murder of Maribel. Aurora is awaiting trial in a Morelia prison known as “Mil Cumbres”. Maribel’s death prompted a response from the PVEM through Twitter. They expressed their condolences and spoke out against violence towards candidates, calling for more thorough investigations and protections in place for those participating in elections.

Sources:

Asesinan a Maribel Barajas, candidata del Partido Verde a una diputación en Michoacán.” Animal Politico. April 11, 2018.

Davish, Francisco García, “Asesinan en Michoacán a candidata del Verde.” Milenio. April 12, 2018.
Tinoco, Miguel García, “Internan en Cereso a mujer detenida por asesinato de candidata del PVEM.” Excelsior. April 15, 2018.

Tinoco, Miguel García, “Candidata asesinada en Michoacán habría contratado a su presunta homicidio.” Excelsior. April 16, 2018.

Arrieta, Carlos, “Vinculan a proceso a presunta homicida de candidata en Michoacán.” El Universal. April 21, 2018.

 

Doña Lety indicted on charges of organized crime and drug trafficking

 

Source: Especial (Excelsior)

Source: Especial 

Famed drug lord, Doña Lety, was indicted for crimes of association to organized crime and drug trafficking in April 2018. Her capture in August 2017 was pivotal for local authorities in Cancun because she was seen as promulgating violent disputes within the city. Leticia Rodriguez, better known as “Doña Lety”, is reportedly a former police officer and one of the few women in Mexico to be the head of a drug cartel. A Mexican court established proceedings against “Doña Lety” and her organized crime group, Cártel de Cancún, which operate in Cancun, a popular tourist destination. “Doña Lety” and her cartel- who allegedly holds ties to El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel, plays a predominant role in the drug market of Cancún and Playa del Carmen. The Cartel de Cancún has been operating since 2005, with the alleged help and protection of local authorities. It is reported that a number of Doña Lety’s cartel members were previously involved with other criminal organizations and served as judicial officials.

According to Fox News, the recent incline in murder rates within Cancún is believed to be directly linked to the constant turf war between Cartel de Cancún and their rival, Los Zetas. These two organized crime groups are fighting for control over key drug trafficking plazas in the local region. Most recently, on April 25, 2018, five dead bodies were found stuffed in a car that was reported stolen a month prior. It is stated that murder rates in Cancún have doubled in the past year, with over 113 people killed in 2018 so far.

Sources:

Garcia, Dennise, “Cae Doña Lety; controlaba la venta de droga en Cancún.” El Universal. August 10, 2017.

Reyes, Juan Pablo, “Vinculan a proceso a “Doña Lety” por delincuencia organizada.” Excelsior. April 10, 2018

Eustachewich, Lia. “Cancun murder surge fueled by alleged drug queen’s turf war.” New York Post. April 12, 2018.

Galicia, Alejandra, “Encuentran 5 cuerpos embolsados en un vehículo de Cancun.” La Silla Rota. April 25, 2018.

 

 

 

 

New Policy Brief: The New Generation—Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat

The New Generation: Mexico's emerging Organized Crime Threat03/19/18 (written by dshirk) – Over the past decade, more than 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, including the record 29,000 murders that occurred in 2017 alone. According to a new Justice in Mexico policy brief by Lucy La Rosa and David A. Shirk, the recent increase in violence is one of the unintended consequences of the Mexican government’s strategy to target top organized crime figures for arrest and extradition. In the policy brief, titled “The New Generation: Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat,” the authors contend that the “kingpin strategy” that led to the downfall of famed drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has now given rise to a new organized crime syndicate known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG).

The authors provide a detailed history of the CJNG, an offshoot of the Milenio and Sinaloa Cartels. As recounted in the new report, the CJNG has managed to re-brand itself, consolidate splintered criminal networks, and emerge as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. Based in Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, the CJNG has a widespread and growing presence that authorities say spans two thirds of the country. The CJNG is headed by Ruben “El Mencho” Oseguera, a small time drug trafficker who was convicted in California, deported to Mexico, and emerged as a ruthless and shrewd drug cartel leader.

The authors contend that the CJNG offers a timely case study of how organized crime groups adapt following the disruption of leadership structures, and the limits of the so-called “kingpin” strategy to combat organized crime, which has contributed to the splintering, transformation, and diversification of Mexican organized crime groups and a shift in drug trafficking into new product areas, including heroin, methamphetamines, and other synthetic drugs.

The authors offer three main policy recommendations. First, the authors argue that U.S. State Department and their Mexican partners must continue working earnestly to bolster the capacity of Mexican law enforcement to conduct long-term, wide-reaching criminal investigations and more effective prosecutions targeting not only drug kingpins but all levels of a criminal enterprise, including corrupt politicians and private sector money laundering operations. Second, the authors argue that U.S. authorities must work more carefully when returning convicted criminals back to Mexico, since deported criminal offenders like CJNG leader Oseguera are prime candidates to join the ranks of Mexican organized crime. Third, and finally, the authors contend that further drug policy reforms are urgently needed to properly regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of not only marijuana but also more potent drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.