Mexico Security Memo: Rise in Meth and Heroin Production

6 MINS READMar 21, 2012 | 12:12 GMT

Opium Bust in Guerrero State

The Mexican Department of Defense announced March 15 that soldiers seized 3.6 metric tons (nearly 8,000 pounds) of a dark liquid containing opium paste Feb. 1 in Coyuca de Catalan, Guerrero state. The seizure is a record for Mexican opium and heroin interdictions — the next biggest seizure was 245 kilograms of opium gum in January 2011 in the same state. This seizure of opium and the recent record-breaking seizures of methamphetamine indicate a dramatic rise in meth and heroin production in Mexico to supplement cartel income.

Opium gum is made by extracting the fluid from poppy pods that can grow in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains along Mexico's Pacific coast. Making black tar heroin can be as easy as soaking the opium gum in acetic acid. Judging by the fact that authorities discovered the opium paste in a liquid (likely acetic acid), it seems they found a lab where the opium gum was being converted to black tar heroin.

While the announcement was made March 15, the seizure actually took place more than a month ago, just a few days before authorities seized 15 tons of meth — the largest meth seizure in the world — along with the meth's requisite lab equipment. At the time, Stratfor noted that such large seizures signified the cartels' industrializing their meth production and, in turn, diversifying their sources of revenue beyond cocaine and marijuana smuggling. The Feb. 1 opium seizure signifies a similar increase in black tar heroin production.

It is hard to judge the exact value of the Feb. 1 opium seizure due to the weight of the liquid in the opium paste, but given the right circumstances this batch could have a street value in the tens of millions of dollars in the United States — not as large as the methamphetamine bust, but still record-breaking in its own right. Such seizures provide further evidence of Mexico's increasing share in the heroin market. 

Los Zetas in Guadalajara

The body of an executed man was hung March 17 from a bridge in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara, Jalisco state, along with a message addressed to Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera and signed by the well-known Los Zetas leader Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales. While the authorship of the message is unverified, Los Zetas have maintained a presence in the important transportation hub of Guadalajara as part of the group's ongoing conflict with the Sinaloa Federation. The message appeared a week after the same area experienced multiple firefights between elements of the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), an ally of the Sinaloa Federation and rival of Los Zetas, and the Mexican military — resulting in the March 9 arrest of the CJNG's top leader, Erick "El 85" Valencia Salazar.

Los Zetas have recently used their alignment with La Resistencia, a remnant of the Milenio cartel, to combat the Sinaloa Federation and its smaller aligned groups such as CJNG in Jalisco state. But events such as messages with murder victims or arrests directly linked to Los Zetas are not common in Guadalajara, making the message in Zapopan notable.

CJNG has played a prominent role in countering Los Zetas' incursions into Jalisco state, and Valencia's arrest may hurt CJNG's operations as Los Zetas continue their push. The timing and location of Los Zetas' message, therefore, suggests it was a response to CJNG's losses in the Guadalajara plaza. Regardless of CJNG's ability to protect the Guadalajara plaza, Sinaloa will likely respond to Los Zetas' encroachment, lessening the chances that security will improve in the region.

March 13

  • Gunmen opened fire on police headquarters in Montemorelos, Nuevo Leon state. While no casualties were reported as a result, several patrol vehicles parked outside the building were damaged.
  • The Mexican Army captured Carlos Alejandro "El Fabiruchis" Gutierrez Escobedo, the Los Zetas plaza boss for Nuevo Laredo, in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. The arrest came after a three-hour firefight between gunmen and the Mexican military. Gutierrez Escobedo had replaced the recently killed Gerardo "El Guerra" Guerra Valdez as plaza boss of Nuevo Laredo. This arrest marks the third Los Zetas Nuevo Laredo plaza boss to fall since August 2011 and signals increased pressure on Los Zetas leadership in Nuevo Laredo from federal forces.

March 14

  • Fifteen people died in several confrontations between gunmen and elements of the Mexican military Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state.
  • Narcomantas signed by CJNG were placed in several locations of Guadalajara, Jalisco state. The message apologized for the violence seen in Guadalajara on March 9 when Mexican security forces engaged in a firefight with CJNG members, resulting in the capture of CJNG’s top leader, Erick Valencia Salazar. The messages also threatened continued operations against Los Zetas.
  • Gunmen opened fire on municipal police in western Acapulco, Guerrero state, injuring two police officers. The gunmen left a narcomanta signed by the Knights Templar and Los Pelones.
  • In three separate occasions, gunmen killed two taxi drivers and a transit police officer near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.

March 15

  • The Mexican Department of Defense announced that soldiers seized 3,600 liters of dark liquid containing opium paste in Coyuca de Catalan, Guerrero state Feb. 1.

March 16

  • Gunmen threw grenades into a police academy in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state, injuring two individuals.
  • Gunmen threw a grenade into The New Excelent bar in northwest Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, killing one individual and wounding seven others.
  • Narcomantas signed by CJNG appeared in various areas of Leon, Guanajuato state, announcing their presence in the area.
  • Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of two executed males along with a message signed by CJNG. The message stated CJNG is united and self-sufficient in its continued fight against kidnappers and extortionists. The message also claimed CJNG was in charge of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Colima, Michoacan and Veracruz.

March 17

  • The body of a man was found hanging from a bridge in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara, Jalisco state, along with a narcomanta addressed to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera and signed by well-known Los Zetas leader Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales. During the previous week, this area was the site of multiple firefights between elements of the Mexican military and the CJNG, an ally of the Sinaloa Federation. The clashes resulted in the arrest of the top leader of CJNG.
  • A confrontation between gunmen and the Mexican army in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas state, left one individual dead and eight others injured.
  • Narcomantas signed by the Knights Templar appeared in several cities in Guanajuato state announcing a temporary halt to violent activities in light of the Pope's visit to the state on March 23.

March 18

  • Gunmen ambushed a convoy of state and municipal police officers in Teloloapan, Guerrero state, killing 12 and injured 11 others.
  • Mexican authorities discovered 10 decapitated human heads in Teloloapan, Guerrero state, along with a narcomanta threatening anyone who supports La Familia Michoacan.

March 19

  • Federal authorities announced the arrest of seven members of La Barredora in Acapulco, Guerrero state. The individuals are accused of three kidnappings and two murders.
  • An explosive device inside a vehicle exploded in front of the Expreso newspaper offices in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state. No injuries were reported from the blast.

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