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Border Crisis: Mexico’s Largest Port Struggles To Stop Flow Of Chinese Fentanyl Products Bound For US

The largest port in Mexico has become a hub for cartel-related crime and the gateway for Chinese chemicals that are used to produce fentanyl trafficked into the U.S., the Financial Times reported Monday.

Manzanillo, a hub of global commerce and the biggest port in Mexico, has become the prime entry point for fentanyl precursors shipped from China that are used to produce fentanyl pills which subsequently get transported over the U.S. border, the Financial Times reported. Mexico and China are the two biggest drivers of fentanyl production, according to a 2020 report from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

China is the primary producer of fentanyl chemical precursors and “fentanyl-related substances” that get shipped internationally and end up in ports like Manzanillo. The port’s rising value to the fentanyl industry has created a battle for control of the port between cartels, who kidnap and kill customs officers who stand in their way.

“The people that come to work in customs are subject to pressures,” Manzanillo’s mayor, Griselda Martinez, said to the Financial Times. “If they accept what one group proposes, they are killed… and if they don’t accept, they are too.”

“It’s definitely become a big driver of violence in Mexico,” Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst at the International Crisis Group, said to the Financial Times. “It’s a huge cash cow for those who have access to [fentanyl].”

One customs director, Sergio Emmanuel Martinex, was kidnapped in May and found dead the next day, making him the fourth customs official to be killed at Manzanillo in the last two years. Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his death was associated with recent efforts to stop illegal imports into Manzanillo, the Financial Times reported.

The port is so vast that even without the threat of violence, customs officers have a near-impossible task of finding fentanyl precursor chemicals in shipments. Manzanillo’s cranes lift nearly 9,500 new shipping containers every day, which carry an assortment of items like auto parts and clothing, according to the Financial Times.

The volume of chemical precursors needed to produce full-potency fentanyl is minuscule, and can easily be missed amidst mass shipments into a major port like Manzanillo. The final fentanyl product itself is so small that a year’s worth of supply for the U.S. weighs just 5 tons, as opposed to the 125 tons of heroin supplied every year, according to the Financial Times.

“It’s not a needle in a haystack, it’s the hole in the needle in the haystack,” Peter Reuter, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, told the Financial Times.

Fentanyl chemical precursors are mixed by “cooks” in make-shift drug laboratories in northern Mexico, produced into a final product – usually a pill – and trafficked over the U.S. southern border by drug mules, which are often American women, according to the Financial Times.

U.S. seizures of the drug have tripled since 2021, the Financial Times reported. Fentanyl overdose deaths in the U.S. were over 70,000 in 2021, which makes up roughly 70% of all drug overdose deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The DEA did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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