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Mexico's navy warns dual use chemicals are boosting meth production

Published 07/10/2024, 07:04 AM
Updated 07/10/2024, 01:22 PM

By Lizbeth Diaz

MANZANILLO, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican navy officials running the country's biggest port are increasingly concerned about the rising flows of unregulated "dual use" chemicals used to produce synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl, four Navy officials told Reuters.

Mexico produces most of the fentanyl that ends up on U.S. streets, according to U.S. officials. In recent years Mexico has also become a major exporter of methamphetamine to Asian countries.

Navy officials at Manzanillo, Mexico's largest port by volume, said they have seen an increase in imports of dual use chemicals, mostly from China, that are used to manufacture legal items such as food, perfume and pharmaceuticals but also double up as precursors to synthesize meth and fentanyl.

Navy officials, giving Reuters a tour of the Pacific coast port, urged the government to regulate the chemicals and highlighted large tubs that have been seized and never claimed by Mexican companies importing them.

"Large quantities of 'dual' substances have been found in clandestine laboratories, which gives us the certainty that they are used for the production of synthetic drugs," said the Navy's chief Information and Risk Analysis officer, who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons.

The officer at Manzanillo port, located in western Colima state, pointed to a shipment from China that was seized in January with 88 metric tons of glacial acetic acid, an unregulated chemical used in meth production. Last month it was impounded because the importing company could not prove the ownership.

Many seized substances, another Navy official said, are imported by companies in the states of Jalisco and Sinaloa, the home bases of Mexico's two biggest drug trafficking groups, the Sinaloa Cartel and its rival, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

"It is urgent to regulate the entry of dual substances into Mexico because, without it, criminal groups dedicated to the manufacture of methamphetamine will continue to increase their production," said a third Navy official, who also asked not to be named.

The Mexican government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manzanillo port receives almost 60% of the containers that arrive in Mexico daily. About 2% of the goods are physically searched as well as 10% of the ships that dock at the port. When there are tips about illegal incoming cargo, 100% of the products undergo searches, officials say.

REGULATION URGENTLY NEEDED

Mexican cartels have long produced methamphetamine for the U.S. market, but in recent year they have increased exports to far away countries, such as Australia, the Netherlands and China.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its report last month included Mexico for the first time in its list of top meth manufacturers, along with Afghanistan, Burma and Syria.

Methamphetamine manufacturing in Mexico has increased by about 200% in roughly the last three years, said the third Navy official.

© Reuters. An employee of a private company in full protective gear adds activated carbon to a bulk liquid container with glacial acetic acid made in China, which deactivates the acid and renders it inactive while checking a shipment, at Manzanillo port, in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico July 4, 2024. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

"Manzanillo, because of its strategic position, is a window to ports in Asia, South America and North America," said a fourth Navy official, who is the commander of the Manzanillo Port Unit.

"International cooperation is definitely paramount to be able to deal with these scourges," he added.

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