MEXICO CITY, Feb 2, 2012 (AFP) - Seizures of precursor chemicals for
synthetic drugs and raids on drug labs have multiplied in Mexico and Guatemala
in recent months, as experts say traffickers are increasingly turning to
The shift is another sign of the growth of Mexico's cartels, once known as
cocaine traffickers to the United States and now infamous for violent turf
wars and trafficking drugs to Australia or Africa, people trafficking and
In Mexico, many synthetic drug laboratories have been discovered in western
Pacific coast states, where there has also been a sharp rise in seizures of
precursor chemicals in port cities, mostly on ships from China.
We note "a change of direction in the activities of criminal organizations,
who are turning to the production of synthetic drugs," said general Ricardo
Trevilla, spokesman for the Mexican army, in a recent statement.
Mexican authorities have not published figures on the production of
synthetic drugs but say they have uncovered 646 laboratories and seized more
than 45 tons of methamphetamines and 13.5 million psychoactive pills since
Between 2001 and 2006, the army discovered only 10 laboratories for
producing synthetic drugs.
In 2011, they also intercepted more than 1,200 tons of precursor chemicals
used in drugs like amphetamines, including monomethylamine, derived from
Mexican defense officials say the rapid growth of drug labs is partly due
to the success of the government's eradication of marijuana or heroin poppy
But authorities also say it is easier to set up a lab than plant a field of
drug crops and, most importantly, the profits are greater.
"Synthetic drugs represent a very attractive opportunity for criminal
organizations because, unlike natural drugs, they can be produced anywhere,
once the organization has access to precursor chemicals and a basic
knowledge," said Antonio Mazzitelli, director of the UN Office on Drugs and
Crime for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
These activities "allow them to obtain a product that can be sent onto the
market very cheaply," with a world market of synthetic drugs estimated at $65
billion, he said.
In neighboring Guatemala -- which has seen major incursions by Mexican
gangs in recent years -- security forces captured 30 tons of precursor
chemicals in 2011, and six tons so far in 2012, according to official figures.
Some observers, including US-based analysts Stratfor, speculate that
Mexican cartels may be moving production of methamphetamine south of the
border in response to Mexico's military clampdown on organized crime.
"The increased confiscation of precursor chemicals could mean Mexican
authorities are getting better at their jobs, but the fact remains that more
and more shipments of precursor chemicals are destined for Mexico's southern
neighbor," said a recent report from Stratfor.
In the United States, methamphetamines, also known as "meth" or "crystal,"
are now more popular than cocaine and heroine in poorer communities, and their
effects are devastating.
Cheap and extremely addictive, they can lead to mental problems like
schizophrenia or paranoia and contribute to the spread of HIV, according to
They have also spread to new markets in Mexico and Central America.
"There's another related phenomenon which is the development of local
markets in countries which were not consumers. That applies to Mexico and
Central America," according to Mazzitelli.
In small, poor countries like Guatemala the presence of chemicals bring
other risks as well.
US authorities last month warned Guatemalans to keep away from a storage
area in the capital, Guatemala City, due to a risk of explosions.