Mexico Seizes 3.6 Tons of ‘Opium Paste’

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Mexico announced the confiscation of 3.6 tons of a substance thought to be opium paste, the largest seizure of opiates in the country’s history.

Mexican officials announced that on 1 February, the army seized roughly 3.6 tons of a dark substance containing heroin. The Associated Press (AP) reports that it marks the country’s largest ever seizure of opiates, eclipsing the previous high of 245 kilos in January 2011.

According to the Defense Department, the seizure came after a raid by the army on a drug lab in the town of Coyuca de Catalan, in the western state of Guerrero.

The AP notes that, using estimates of opium paste-to-heroin production, the 3.6 tons could have yielded approximately 360 kilos of heroin. Based on the most recent UN World Drug Report figures, this would have a US street value of roughly $65 million.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexico seized 268 kilos of heroin in 2011, and eradicated 4,124 hectares of poppy, the raw material for heroin, according to the latest US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

Government and multilateral reports in recent years have placed Mexico as the largest producer of heroin in Latin America and the Caribbean, having surpassed Colombia, the former regional leader. The 2011 World Drug Report stated that Colombia’s poppy cultivation fell to 356 hectares in 2009, compared to Mexico’s 19,500 hectares. However, DEA sources have told InSight Crime that the majority of heroin that they observe entering the US is, in fact, Colombian, making these estimates about Colombia’s supposed dwindling production seem questionable.

In both countries, the heroin trade is largely controlled by smaller trafficking cells as opposed to major transnational criminal organizations. These big structures are involved in the trade only indirectly. In Mexico, for example, organizations such as the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels charge smaller groups to use trafficking corridors and their links in distribution markets such as the US. In Colombia, the trade relies largely on drug mules employed by smaller groups, which operate predominantly out of Colombia’s southwest city of Cali.

A major difference between the two countries is in the quality of heroin produced. Mexican gangs typically traffic “black tar” heroin that is about 40 percent pure. In contrast, Colombian heroin is of far higher purity, reaching 90 percent.

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