Tuesday 10 January 2012

Guadalajara at the cross-roads of huge methamphetamine market

A warehouse that was used to store hundreds of containers of chemical “precursors” for the production of synthetic drugs – most likely methamphetamine – was discovered on January 10 by municipal police in the Zapopan neighbourhood of Guadalajara. As well, officials for the federal attorney general’s office and Navy units have seized over 32 thousand kilos of precursors in the nearby port of Manzanillo, Colima.

In the Guadalajara warehouse hundreds of 200-litre plastic drums were found filled with chemicals. The warehouse was located at 337 calle San Alfonso, where it crosses San Jerónimo in the El Campanario neighbourhood.

The bust was made from an anonymous tip, likely due to a strong odour of chemicals, suggesting that it was indeed a “narcobodega”. Two brothers, claiming to be from the state of Zacatecas, were found inside the warehouse and arrested.

Inside the warehouse, which measured 70x15 meters, were found the plastic 200-litre drums, as well as other, higher-capacity water tanks which were also filled with chemicals.

Because the chemical content has not been confirmed, the police had yet to determine whether or not the two brothers have actually committed a crime.

Another big bust in Manzanillo

Meanwhile, 32,670 kilos (about 37 tons) of methylamine, a precursor drug for the manufacture of methamphetamine, was seized at the port of Manzanillo, Colima, about 150 kilometres from Guadalajara. The chemicals had come from China, with Mexico as their final destination.

This was a joint effort by the Attorney General's Office (PGR), the Secretary of the Navy (Semar), and the Tax Administration Service (SAT).

The containers are now being held under the protection of the Mexican Navy within the customs yards at Manzanillo, Mexico’s busiest port. Preliminary reports suggest that the chemicals may have been seized at first due to a failure to pay customs duty, as opposed to any investigative work by authorities.

Manzanillo is a favourite port for bringing in precursors from Asia. On December 27th of last year authorities seized approximately 19 thousand kilos (about 21 tons) of monomethylamine at the port.

At that time, the precursor chemical came from the port of Callao, Peru, with the final intended destination being Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala – a tiny port on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. Why it went from Peru to Mexico, bypassing Guatemala en route, was never explained.

Only a few days before this, authorities seized over 206 thousand kilos (229 tons) of precursors at the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. In the month of December last year authorities seized over 520 thousand kilos (over 575 tons) of precursor chemicals at Lázaro Cárdenas.

Jalisco under pressure

In 2011, the Mexican Pacific ports of Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo were clearly the two major entry points for precursors.

These shipments come from Asia – China and Singapore, mostly – and create serious problems for authorities in Sinaloa, Jalisco, and Michoacan, according to reports from the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA).

In fact, the two ports are estimated to account for nearly 90% of precursor chemicals coming into Mexico.

The fastest route for meth - or any good - to travel from Lázaro Cárdenas to the U.S. is through Guadalajara

U.S. authorities have warned that Jalisco, and its capital Guadalajara, are playing a key role in the trade in methamphetamines, largely due to its excellent road infrastructure and proximity to the port of Manzanillo.

However, Manzanillo only represented 23% of all precursor chemicals imported in 2011. It was Lázaro Cárdenas – 500 kilometres away in Michoacan – that acted as the great gateway, with 67% of all imports, a total of 200 thousand tons, or over 1.8 million kilos.

The good news for Guadalajara is that there appears to have been very little processing in the city – only 61 kilos was reported in 2011. (Though that could also mean simply that more people are getting away with it).

Past seizures have indicated that precursors were headed for the municipality of Juanacatlán, to the southeast of Guadalajara. It was in Juanacatlán that, on August 7, 2008, authorities found an operating lab with 5 tons (4.5 thousand kilos) of active chemicals.

Methamphetamine, commonly known as “speed” and “chalk” in English, is in great demand in the United States and, increasingly, in Mexico, too.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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