HomeNewsAnalysisMexican Drug Gangs Attracted by Lucrative Meth Trade
ANALYSIS

Mexican Drug Gangs Attracted by Lucrative Meth Trade

METHAMPHETAMINE / 25 JAN 2012 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A massive surge in the number of synthetic drug labs discovered in Mexico indicates a nationwide shift of traffickers away from traditional drugs like cocaine and towards the more profitable methamphetamine.

As Excelsior reported, some 645 of these labs have been discovered by Mexican authorities during the five years of the Felipe Calderon administration, compared to just 60 during Vicente Fox’s six years as president. Mexico’s Defense Department (Sedena), said that the rapid growth of narco-labs had been fueled by the decline in the number of fields used for the cultivation of marijuana or heroin-producing poppy, which they attributed to the government’s eradication efforts.

However, given the variable success of past eradication efforts, it is likely that a more important factor was the greater revenue to be made from producing synthetic drugs: a Sedena spokesman said that profit margins of synthetic drug manufacturers can be up to 20 times those of marijuana producers. Authorities said that the appeal of synthetic drugs is also due to the fact that setting up a lab is far quicker and easier than planting a field of coca or marijuana, and easier to conceal, because the production takes place beneath a roof and behind closed doors.

Another factor in the decline of marijuana cultivation in Mexico is the increasing number of big-time US growers, from the Pacific Northwest to the less monitored corners of Appalachia. US marijuana is widely perceived to be better than its Mexican competition, and US growers don’t have to slip past an increasingly fortified border. These factors mean that the Mexican marijuana industry, which has prevailed in the Sierra Madre region for more than a century, faces stiff competition.

The laboratories have been discovered primarily in four Pacific states: Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, and Michoacan. The geography dovetails with the striking rise in massive seizures of precursor chemicals in Pacific port cities like Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, and Manzanillo, Colima, a small state wedged between Michoacan and Jalisco. In May 2010 alone, the Mexican Navy seized more than 160 tons in just two Manzanillo busts; a year later, they confiscated almost 115 tons in two more seizures.

The location of the clandestine laboratories suggests that the Mexican production of synthetic drugs is dominated by the same group that has long towered over the industry as a whole: the Sinaloa Cartel. The organization led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has long been the strongest criminal group along the Pacific coast region, as well as one of the most innovative in producing and smuggling drugs. It’s also noteworthy that the regions under the control of their biggest enemies, the Zetas, have comparatively little synthetic drug production.

This state of affairs seems unlikely to last. The Sinaloa Cartel has more experience at the production levels of the supply chain than many rival organizations, but the relative simplicity of synthetic drug production suggests that other gangs will inevitably eat into their market share. Furthermore, because there is no inherent geographic benefit to one region or another for producing synthetic drugs -- unlike marijuana and poppy, which are ideally suited to the remote mountain ranges of western Mexico -- a long-term shift toward synthetic drugs could eat into the natural advantages that the Sinaloa-based traffickers enjoy.

While there are a great deal of factors driving the violence in Mexico, it also seems logical that the greater amount of money at stake with synthetic production could encourage more bloodshed. Indeed, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that the rise in synthetic production has occurred alongside the notorious spike in Mexican violence. Insofar as the shift toward synthetic drugs is permanent, it will likely make the recent wave of violence more difficult to rein in.

The relatively rapid shift toward a new sector of the industry demonstrates the adaptability of drug traffickers, which has enabled them to flourish despite untold billions of dollars being spent to eliminate the trade over the last few decades.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HUMAN RIGHTS / 28 JAN 2022

A number of media workers in Mexico have been shot and killed, stabbed to death and ambushed in armed attacks…

MEXICO / 7 DEC 2021

A daring prison break in central Mexico was focused on freeing the leader of a relatively modest oil theft group,…

EXTORTION / 22 FEB 2022

Recent US sanctions against an alleged Jalisco Cartel operative have revealed that the powerful Mexican group is using the resort…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…