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Rubio Questions State Department Official on Mexico’s Role in Counter Narcotics Efforts

Apr 11, 2024 | Press Releases

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned State Department official on the partnership with Mexico to stop the influx of synthetic drugs coming across the U.S. border. 

Click here for video and read a transcript below:

Witness:

  • Chris Landberg, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State

RUBIO: I think the synthetic drugs pose a very different challenge than the drugs that require agriculture, such as coca. For these synthetic drugs, the key is these precursor chemicals, the raw materials that you put together to make these synthetic drugs. I understand the chain the way it works. There are multiple places that produce the precursors right now. The bulk of it is coming from two provinces in China and a handful of companies. 

These things can be bought online, on the darknet internet, and they are then shipped in cargo containers that are mislabeled with the help of certain brokers who will bribe officials and or help file fictitious paperwork, and are brought into Mexico. These precursors are then distributed to these small-scale labs that manufacture the stuff, and they also need the equipment, the pill presses and so forth. Then, they sell their manufactured product to transport specialists. The two big ones that are in the business are the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels in Mexico. For a premium fee, they move the drugs across the border and into the hands of distribution networks inside of the United States. Is that an accurate description of the supply chain?

LANDBERG: Yes, sir. The majority of the precursors are coming from the People’s Republic of China [PRC], and they are trafficked into Mexico in various ways. You are right. It is a diffuse command and control structure in how it’s produced, and then the major cartels move it back into the U.S.

RUBIO: Coca is grown agriculturally, and then these labs out in the jungle put it together, and the cartels move it and so forth. They had vertically integrated in Colombia for a while. The difference here is, while I agree 100 percent that we need to do a better job of monitoring and stopping it at the border, attacking it at the street level, diminishing the demand in our own country and so forth, it seems to me that part of the key is disrupting the influx of both the precursor chemicals and, to some extent, the technologies, the pill presses and other equipment that they are using to bring this stuff together. 

I don’t know how we do that without the cooperation of the Mexican government, who has to be willing, at their ports of entry, particularly as these cargo ships come in, to use a variety of methods to stop these precursors from coming in. These precursors have legitimate uses. They exist for other reasons. But obviously, when they’re being shipped for a certain purpose in certain quantities into Mexico, there’s real suspicion. We don’t want to divulge tactics. But is there a strategy being thought of? Who is in charge of developing it? 

Maybe why the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] should be here today. Is there a strategy that theoretically could work at disrupting the influx of these precursor chemicals that are necessary to cook this stuff up? And the equipment, I would add. Who’s in charge of that? Who’s doing the thinking about what creative ways we can use to crack down on that end of the supply chain?

LANDBERG: Sir, this is our top priority from a security perspective in the whole region. The White House is directly involved, from the president on down. We’re working on this all the time. When you talk about border security, port security, you’re looking at the Department of Homeland Security [DHS]. 

RUBIO: I’m talking about Mexican ports. 

LANDBERG: With the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Section [INL] supporting building partner capabilities within Mexico, this is a partnered effort between the State Department and DHS and the Department of Justice [DOJ]. It’s a comprehensive approach. We absolutely are focusing on trying to stop the precursors.

There’s been advancements over the last year in working with the PRC. They did, in 2019, stop fentanyl. But they are still the source for precursors. We have had a number of engagements that started last year with the president, Xi Jinping, and then culminated this January with a working group meeting that my boss went to, along with the White House. We are starting to improve our coordination with the PRC government on this.

But we have to remember that some of these precursors are going through the United States. This is also internal to the United States. We need to be working on this. When we talk about the border, it’s flowing both ways. We’re trying to work with the Mexicans on our southern border to have layered security that we use on both sides. 

We have a number of initiatives in INL to improve border security, working with the Mexicans. Port security is also critical. What you have here is multiple U.S. government agencies involved in improving information sharing, improving capacities, working more closely with our Mexican counterparts. You are right, it is a totally new game with synthetics.

RUBIO: Going to the chairman’s question about Mexican cooperation, the key here is not simply how many people are they stationing at the border to search trucks…. There has to be the willingness to actually put in place things that slow or diminish and put a dent in the entry of these precursors into Mexico. 

Mexico has a growing consumption problem. It’s no longer just the U.S. There is now a growing fentanyl consumption problem, not just in Mexico, but in multiple other countries in the region. Whether it’s under the current president there now or after the new election, I think, at some point, Mexico is going to be facing a crisis that will look somewhat like ours. They may have an incentive to do something about it. 

But at this stage, given the chairman’s question, how is that level of cooperation and willingness to identify this as a problem and address it? Because it’s a lot easier to try to go after the precursors than it is to go raid a thousand little labs.

LANDBERG: That is absolutely true. We have strong cooperation across the board. Our interdiction results are dramatically increasing. DHS would be able to give you better statistics about what we have been seizing on the U.S. law enforcement side. But we’re seeing advances across the board. It’s still just a dent, and we have a lot of room to improve. But this trilateral commission with Canada shows that we’re really trying to approach it, all three countries, since this is also a problem that’s affecting Canada.