Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Wednesday doubled down on his assertion that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico, though the country’s drug cartels are known to play a key role in refining the drug and trafficking it to the United States.
“We hold that there is no fentanyl [here]. There are no raw materials here. It arrives from Asia, and enters the United States, … Canada, and Mexico,” López Obrador said at a press conference.
“And here there are — we’ll call them laboratories — where it is complemented and sent to the United States.”
While López Obrador’s accounting of the origins of fentanyl precursors is accurate, clandestine laboratories in Mexico associated with cartel activities play a major role in the production of the drug as a marketable substance.
According to the State Department’s 2022 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, “most of the heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl and its analogs consumed in the United States originates in Mexico.”
And an August report by The Wall Street Journal found that two Mexican cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) control an overwhelming majority of the fentanyl trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Yet López Obrador is not alone in making the case that China’s role in fentanyl production is often overlooked.
In a February opinion piece, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) wrote that “it’s estimated China is responsible for over 90 percent of illicit fentanyl found in the United States.”
Though Newhouse did refer to Mexico’s role in converting Chinese chemicals “into fentanyl-containing tablets,” he wrote that “it’s important we cut the lethal fentanyl engine off at its source: China.”
Still, many experts are wary of minimizing the Mexican cartels’ role in creating the finished product that shows up in the United States.
“[López Obrador’s] thing is that Mexico just has pill presses to ‘package’ already-made fentanyl. But it’s not hard to find examples of labs actually combining precursors,” said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America.
And López Obrador’s pushback against a seemingly semantic distinction has political undertones.
In response to a question from The Hill on Wednesday, the Mexican president criticized his predecessors for taking orders from U.S. government agencies.
“What happened before? If the United States said that there was fentanyl in Mexico, it was the ‘holy word,’” López Obrador said. “We say no. No. Fentanyl is not produced in Mexico.”
Asked whether holding to the assertion that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico is a communications strategy, López Obrador said, “No, it’s telling the truth.”
“[U.S. agencies] lied, and the Mexican government would give in and not validate its independence, its sovereignty — they dominated all of [our] security policy,” said López Obrador.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration was the one that carried out drug control operations [in Mexican territory].”
López Obrador also hinted at corruption in the U.S. security apparatus, using the drug trafficking conviction of former Mexican top cop Genaro García Luna as an example.
García Luna, said López Obrador, was treated like a “martian” by the U.S. prosecutors who secured his conviction, meaning he was investigated ignoring his associations with high-level officials on both sides of the border.
“He has no relationship with the then-president of Mexico who was his boss, but he also doesn’t have a relationship with the officials from U.S. agencies,” López Obrador said in an ironic tone.