The United States has sanctioned four suspected members of Mexico’s powerful CJNG cartel, alleging that they controlled drug operations at a Pacific port that is a crucial entry point for fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals from Asia.
Aldrin Miguel Jarquín Jarquín, Jose Jesus Jarquín Jarquín, César Enrique Diaz de León Sauceda and Fernando Zagal Antón are alleged to be members of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generació – CJNG) operating out of the Manzanillo port and surrounding areas in the state of Colima, the US Treasury Department said in an October 6 news release.
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Treasury officials say the men “coordinate CJNG’s drug trafficking operations through the port of Manzanillo” and maintain contact with cocaine suppliers in Colombia.
The Jarquín Jarquín brothers, as well as Diaz de Leon Sauceda, are allegedly among the most senior members of the CJNG operating out of Manzanillo. They report directly Julio Alberto Castillo Rodriguez, the son-in-law of CJNG boss Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” according to the Treasury Department.
The CJNG’s “criminal success is partly due to its influence over strategic locations such as Manzanillo,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
“This Pacific coast port serves as a significant gateway for Colombian cocaine and precursor chemicals imported from Asia, including those used to synthesize fentanyl,” she said in the news release.
It’s not just fentanyl products moving through Manzanillo. In early July, 50,000 kilograms of benzyl chloride, used in the production of methamphetamines, were seized at the port.
InSight Crime Analysis
Control of the port of Manzanillo is crucial to CJNG’s efforts to dominate the lucrative synthetic drug trade into the United States and the group’s expansion across Mexico.
A report, "Mexico’s Role in the Deadly Rise of Fentanyl," published in February 2019 by InSight Crime and the Wilson Center found that the port of Manzanillo accounted for the lion’s share of seizures of fentanyl precursor chemicals entering the country.
The CJNG, though, wasn’t always the dominant player in what had once been a sleepy port. In 2016, violence surged around Colima in a three-way battle among the CJNG, the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Zetas. The CJNG was ultimately able to consolidate its control of Manzanillo by forging alliances with local gangs.
The CJNG was also positioned to deal in fentanyl, given its background in methamphetamine trafficking.
The group’s control of the port has been crucial to its swift rise as one of Mexico’s main fentanyl traffickers into the United States, according to a January 2020 US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence report.
Combating smuggling at the Manzanillo port has become a priority of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who visited Manzanillo himself as a show of commitment. In January of this year, he gave the Mexican Navy, direct control of the country’s seaports.
The US and China have also worked together to crack down on the supply of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds. But halting the smuggling of fentanyl and its precursors is not likely to happen any time soon.
The shutdown of the Chinese city of Wuhan – an epicenter of fentanyl manufacturing – amid the COVID-19 pandemic led to the sourcing of fentanyl and its precursors from other countries. Meanwhile, criminal groups like the CJNG ramped up their manufacturing capabilities.