Banners purportedly from Sinaloa cartel say gang has sworn off sales of fentanyl

MEXICO CITY — Banners appeared Monday in northern Mexico purportedly signed by a faction of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel claiming that the gang has sworn off the sale and production of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

However, doubts were promptly raised by experts regarding the accuracy of the statement, as fentanyl, responsible for numerous overdose fatalities in the United States, continues to be a significant source of income for the cartel.

The prosecutors in Sinaloa have verified that the banners were found on bridges and close to roads, but they are unable to confirm their authenticity or identify the individuals responsible for putting them up.

The banners that were printed by a machine and supposedly signed by the sons of the incarcerated drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman assert that they have banned the sale or manufacturing of fentanyl in the northern region of Sinaloa. These sons are commonly referred to as “the Chapitos,” taking after their well-known father.

“The banners state that in Sinaloa, the sale, production, transportation, or any other commercial activity related to fentanyl is completely forbidden. This also includes the sale of chemicals utilized in its manufacturing. The message serves as a warning, signed respectfully by Chapitos.”

Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said there is concrete evidence that “Sinaloa is the biggest producer of fentanyl in Mexico” and that there has been no sign the cartel is moving away from it.

“I believe that the Chapitos began to feel the pressure when they raised the bounty for their arrest. It seems like they are attempting to create a large-scale deception in order to alleviate the pressure,” he stated. “It’s almost as if they are running a major campaign to convince the U.S. that they are not implicated. It’s simply a form of propaganda,” Vigil expressed.

In September, Mexico extradited Ovidio Guzmán López, one of the Chapitos, to the United States to face drug trafficking, money laundering and other charges. Mexican security forces captured Guzmán López, alias “the Mouse,” in January in Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa state, the cartel’s namesake.

In a letter issued in May, the Chapitos denied any involvement in the fentanyl trade. The sons of Guzmán stated that they have never been involved in the production, manufacturing, or selling of fentanyl or any related substances. According to the letter, they believe they are being unfairly targeted and used as scapegoats.

Vigil argued that the claim of the cartel ceasing fentanyl production was false, as it is their primary source of income. He further stated that the remaining members of the Sinaloa Cartel would strongly oppose any attempt to halt this profitable operation.

“The Sinaloa Cartel’s approach is to distance themselves from drugs derived from plants, such as cocaine, marijuana, and heroin,” explained Vigil. However, relinquishing fentanyl, which could potentially empower their rival gang Jalisco, “will essentially grant Jalisco the ability to surpass them in terms of financial power.”

In April, extensive charges were revealed by U.S. prosecutors against Ovidio Guzmán and his siblings. These charges provided a comprehensive account of how, after their father was extradited and received a lifelong prison sentence in the U.S., the brothers shifted the cartel’s focus towards synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The indictment unsealed in Manhattan said their goal was to produce huge quantities of fentanyl and sell it at the lowest price. Fentanyl is so cheap to make that the cartel reaps immense profits even wholesaling the drug at 50 cents per pill, prosecutors said.

The Chapitos gained notoriety for their extreme brutality, which seemed to exceed the limits of self-control exhibited by previous cartel leaders.

López Obrador acknowledges that his country serves as a transit point for precursors from China to the U.S., but he disputes the claims made by the U.S. government and his own military regarding Mexico’s significant fentanyl production. Fentanyl remains a major concern in the bilateral security relationship.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 109,680 deaths resulting from drug overdoses took place in the United States last year. Out of these, around 75,000 were associated with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

U.S. prosecutors claim that a significant portion of the production takes place in and near the state capital, Culiacan, where the Sinaloa cartel holds almost absolute authority.

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