EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – It was a summit meant to show solidarity in finding multinational solutions to the migrant crisis at the U.S. border and the fentanyl epidemic spreading through North America. But between talking points about agreements and praises for the partners, an apparent contradiction emerged after Thursday’s meeting of Biden administration cabinet members and Mexican officials in Mexico City.
“We are going to advance prevention on drug trafficking, especially fentanyl, with action and awareness campaigns. And we will also address the causes of violence through universal programs so the population, especially the youth, will have growth opportunities,” Mexican Public Safety Secretary Rosa Icela Rodriguez Velazquez said at the post-summit press conference.
“So we can also come to the deepest causes of economic growth and the trafficking of chemical precursors. Remember that Mexico is not a producer of fentanyl. Mexico is a country of transit. In Mexico, we have not detected fentanyl production laboratories.”
Minutes later, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland talked about having charged in his country 23 Sinaloa cartel members and associates “for their role in running the largest, most violent and most prolific fentanyl production and trafficking operation in the world.”
Fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, figured in about two-thirds of the 107,081 overdose deaths reported in the United States in 2022.
Later, Garland would also state a commitment to break up fentanyl production chains wherever they are.
“And along those chains, it begins with the precursor chemical companies in China, it goes to the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels here in Mexico who are producing the fentanyl and trafficking it,” he said according to a U.S. State Department transcript of the news conference.
Asked later by reporters about the apparent contradiction, Mexico’s Rodriguez Velazquez restated her position.
“The clarification is there is no contradiction in the U.S. position and the Mexican position. In Mexico, we do not produce – I insist – chemical precursors. Those come from Asia. And in Mexico we have some labs, kitchens, where in most cases they produce methamphetamine. There are some, there should be some, type of arrival in Mexico of fentanyl,” Rodriguez Velazquez said. “And, yes, it goes to the United States. But I insist, in Mexico – Mexico does not produce fentanyl.”
The assertion by Mexico’s Public Security secretary raised eyebrows from some Texas Republicans with a deep knowledge of border security, even though Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena later said some clandestine laboratories have been seized.
“There is absolutely zero doubt that fentanyl is being produced in Mexico,” said Victor Avila, a retired supervisory special agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a Republican candidate in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. “The Mexican government’s denial of this objective reality shows that current U.S. policy is not effective in holding them accountable.”
Avila, who survived an ambush by the Zetas drug cartel that killed Special Agent Jaime Zapata along the Mexico City-Monterrey Highway in 2011, said political and law enforcement resources should be used in every country – including the United States – to stop the flow of fentanyl.
“To effectively combat the synthetic opioid crisis, we must exert overwhelming pressure at every link of the supply chain, including Mexico and China, as well as domestically,” Avila told Border Report.
Irene Armendariz-Jackson, who has run for Congress in the El Paso-based 16th Congressional District of Texas and is the wife of a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent, said Mexican government officials have long been accused of collusion with the drug cartels.
The U.S. government in 2020 arrested former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos on charges of allegedly shielding a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the United States. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador emphatically refuted the charges against the former official and the U.S. dropped prosecution. The Mexican government investigated Cienfuegos after he returned to Mexico but said it found no evidence he communicated with any criminal group and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
“There is a saying (in Spanish), es un secreto a voces (It’s an open secret). They are not interested in evidence or facts,” Armendariz-Jackson said. “It is truly unfortunate for Mexicans because the violence and victimization of regular citizens will continue until organized crime is eradicated from the Mexican government.”
Armendariz-Jackson, whose parents were born in Mexico, said her family has lost three members to drug cartel violence, including two who “just disappeared.”
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, urged U.S. partners to commit to stopping the flow of fentanyl.
“Regardless of where it is produced or sourced, this deadly drug has taken too many lives and we need to build a collective effort to combat it,” the incumbent for the 23rd Congressional District told Border Report. “I urge every partner of the U.S. to treat this crisis with the seriousness it deserves and join the battle to cut off illicit fentanyl supplies.”