Fentanyl Bags
Plastic bags of Fentanyl are displayed on a table at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area JOSHUA LOTT/Reuters

It seems like Mexican cartels are at odds over what is perhaps their most high-profile illegal activity at the moment: the production and trafficking of fentanyl into the United States, an often-lethal drug that has been the main cause of addiction and overdose deaths in the country over the past years.

A new report by InSight Crime details that while a powerful faction of the Sinaloa Cartel, known as the Chapitos -as its run by sons of notorious drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, now imprisoned in the U.S.- is seeking to crack down on fentanyl production, other criminal organizations have moved their operations further up north to escape their sphere of influence.

The Chapitos' move, the report says, comes amid increased pressure by both the U.S. and Mexican governments. "US prosecutors have made a point of targeting members of the Sinaloa Cartel, which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) alleges to be one of two groups primarily responsible for trafficking large quantities of the drug," reads a passage of the article.

The cartel stopped its own production in mid-2023 and has hired hitmen and tasked them with killing anyone still producing fentanyl in Sinaloa. Following the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán in January 2023, the cartel seemed to implement a ban in the state of Culiacán, later extending it to Baja California, Baja California Sur and Sonora.

However, other groups seem to have moved their operations up north, closer to the U.S.-Mexico border. Activities seemed to have concentrated in Baja California and Sonora despite the ban. The report mentions a series of seizures in those states to back up the claim.

Others may have moved to other activities, as one fentanyl cook interviewed by the publication described a sharp drop in the amounts paid per kilo of the substance, amid an oversupply situation in some parts of the United States.

The report, nonetheless, contemplates the possibility of a resurgence of production in the near future. Based on interviews with actors on the ground, it points at the fact that "the Chapitos and other Sinaloa Cartel factions are not the only players involved in the fentanyl trade."

It also mentions a recent assessment by U.S. agencies about a "fragmentation of fentanyl operations" in Mexico. And, above all, a bounce of prices if underproduction becomes the norm. "As demand remains high in primary markets like the United States, fentanyl production is likely to continue expanding and may even return to previous levels in Sinaloa," it concluded.

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