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Michoacan Becomes Narcotics Hub of the Americas

Police forces burning drugs in La Venta del Astillero, Mexico
Police forces burning drugs in La Venta del Astillero, Mexico

MORELIA — The violence-plagued state of Michoacán on Mexico's central Pacific coast has risen to become the center of narcotics production in the country, according to an investigative report by leading Mexican newspaper El Universal.

Mexico is the world's leading supplier of methamphetamines, as identified in a 2014 UN report . And Michoacán, where some 460 clandestine drug laboratories were dismantled between 2006 and 2015, is the country's top center of production.

The El Universal investigation uncovers a complex market based on the state's strategic position on the Pacific coast and proximity to Asia — it is home to Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the country's largest ports — and the proliferation of rival drug cartels that have reoriented to the lucrative new meth trade, competing against one another to dominate the market.

The precursor chemicals necessary to produce the drug are shipped to Michoacán from Asia, and the meth is then produced in the state's numerous laboratories before traveling north to the United States or being shipped right back across the Pacific to Asia, where in some countries meth consumption is on the rise. The cartels in Michoacán are the central node of production and distribution in the meth trade.

La Familia, long the state's largest cartel, shifted its focus from cocaine and marijuana production to the meth industry in 2006. Five years later, the cartel split, with one faction forming a new, more violent cartel called the Knights Templar. The new competitors also increased production of meth, sparking a bloody conflict and firmly establishing the state as the country's major narcotics hub.

El Universal writes that the Pacific coast states of Sinaloa and Jalisco are also large centers of meth production. The Mexican government and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) signed an agreement in 2012 to destroy clandestine drug labs and tackle the region's growing narcotics trade.

But violence continues to rage in Michoacán between the warring cartels, the government, and local self-defense militias, and meth production has not abated. Morelia-based newspaper La Voz de Michoacán reports that the authorities demolished three meth labs in central Michoacán as recently as Oct. 26.

Meth remains Mexico's second most popular drug behind marijuana, with 17,565 kilos seized in 2014. Michoacán's cartels are tightening their grip on a thriving illegal trade, turning their country into the world's largest meth producer in the process.

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