The Sinaloa Cartel, already thought to be the largest supplier of methamphetamine to the US, may be shifting production southwards to Guatemala. This forms part of a larger trend, in which Mexican groups appear to be shifting many of their operations into Central America.

The Associated Press reports that the seizure of precursor chemicals to produce methamphetamine is spiking dramatically in Guatemala. In 2011, authorities seized about 1,600 tons of precursor chemicals, four times the amount seized in 2010. Much of the trade is thought to be controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel.

InSight Crime Analysis

Such reports point to a key trend previously identified by InSight Crime: the shifting of drug production into Central American nations that are not prepared to confront the Mexican cartels. There have already been some signs that drug trafficking organizes have moved their cocaine-processing infrastructure into the region, with laboratories discovered in Honduras and Guatemala. Nicaragua saw its first ever meth lab dismantled in 2009. If Mexico's meth production is moving southwards into the Northern Triangle, it is one more indication that the region is increasingly seen as a safer environment for the drug trade.

The shift into Guatemala could also be a sign sign that law enforcement efforts in Mexico are working. Both US and Mexican authorities seized a record amount of meth along the US-Mexico border last year. Another deterrent was Mexico's decision to ban imports of pseudophedrine and ephedine, key ingredients in meth production, in 2008.

The AP report also supports the hypothesis that the Sinaloa Cartel is expanding its hold on the methamphetamine trade. This includes taking over the network once controlled by the Familia Michoacana. The Sinaloans are now thought to be the largest distributors of meth inside the US.