New Report Shows 89% of Fentanyl Labs Raided in Mexico Were Already Inactive

A public information request concerning Mexican raids on fentanyl production facilities has spurned accusations from lawmakers that the Mexican government has been inflating or at the very least manipulating information about their efforts to take down fentanyl production facilities.

A Reuters investigation found that raids on suspected fentanyl labs by the Mexican government have almost exclusively targeted inactive labs.

Pressure from the United States on Mexico to curb the massive flow of fentanyl coming into our country from theirs has led to a dramatic increase in raids on labs suspected of producing the powerful opioid responsible for the 73,000 some odd overdose deaths of American citizens in 2022 alone. However, it has recently come to light that at least 95% of the raids conducted between January and August of this year were on labs that had already shut down production, according to Reuters.

Data obtained through a freedom of information request submitted to SEDENA, the Mexican Defense Ministry showed that in 2023, Mexican military units performed 503 raids on inactive labs and 24 raids on active labs. In 2022 the military raided 450 inactive labs and 42 active labs. In 2021, the numbers were 195 and 22 respectively, and 267-55 in 2020.  Between December, 2018 and August, 2023 89% of the raids conducted on Mexican fentanyl laboratories were performed on inactive labs. 

Many have speculated this discrepancy in raid effectiveness has spurned from many sources, including the hands-off policies of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who took office in 2018. President Lopez Obrador has been vocal about trying to solve narcotics issues where they begin by addressing issues like poverty rather than the traditional game of narcotics whack-a-mole so to speak of aiming to take higher level cartel captains. The numbers, however, would also suggest that President Lopez Obrador’s administration has been inflating the data they share with the U.S. by only sharing the total number of raids conducted rather than including the context of how effective these raids have been, as was pointed out by Guillermo Valdes, Mexico’s civilian spy chief from 2007 to 2011.

“SEDENA is ripping up its prestige by altering the figures. Who is going to believe them after this?” Valdes said to Reuters.

Other possible causes for such ineffective raids could be the same problems that have plagued the country of Mexico for decades. Cartel superpowers buying off government, military and law enforcement officials to look the other way and killing those who oppose them certainly makes it difficult to conduct such high-risk operations. One ex-cartel member told Reuters the practice of giving up smaller labs with the understanding that the larger labs can continue business as usual has been commonplace long before fentanyl entered the picture.

“The trade offs happened a lot,” said Margarito Flores, a former associate of notorious cocaine kingpin El Chapo who turned government informant in 2008, eight years before El Chapo’s capture. 

Two active Sinaloan traffickers who refused to be identified for obvious reasons also told Reuters that these raids were often “for show,” as there were several Mexican military members sympathetic to cartel causes and/or on cartel payroll.

Since this data was made available some U.S. lawmakers have accused Mexico of running a completely fictitious war on drugs. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), co-chairman of the senate’s international narcotics control caucus told Reuters this data shows that our neighbors to the South are “fighting an imaginary war on drugs designed to score political points rather than save lives.”

In October of this year, several banners appeared in Sinaloa appearing to ban fentanyl production in the area, though many wrote this off as a cartel tactic to relieve pressure on their organizations by the U.S. and Mexican governments. 

“Attention. Due to the incessant disinformation of some media and the obvious omission of the government in not investigating and prosecuting the true culprits of this epidemic,” the banners said (in Spanish). “In Sinaloa, the sale, manufacture, transportation or any type of business that involves the substance known as fentanyl is strictly prohibited, including the sale of chemicals for its preparation. We have never been nor will we be related to that business. [Be warned of] the consequences. Att: Chapitos.”

The recent data put forth by Reuters was capped in August of this year so it was not immediately clear whether these banners had any effect on fentanyl production, though the U.S. has certainly kept the pressure on Mexico to do something about the issue as President Biden and President Lopez Obrador just spoke on the phone Thursday concerning the need for more enforcement at the border. President Biden also visited the country in November to discuss similar issues.

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