The fight against the synthetic drugs that are wreaking havoc around the world is entering a new chapter. Some 90 countries are now part of the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats. China plays a leading role in the sale of precursors used in the commercial manufacture of these narcotics, which are shipped all over the world, including Latin America.
The supply of illicit drugs is growing in unprecedented numbers, with drug trafficking networks becoming increasingly nimble. These are exacerbating converging global crises and challenging health services and law enforcement responses, said the latest World Drug Report 2023, which the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published in late June.
“We are seeing a steady increase in the number of people suffering from drug disorders around the world, while treatment is not reaching all those who need it,” said Ghada Waly, executive director of UNODC. “We must step up responses against trafficking networks that take advantage of conflicts and global crises to expand the cultivation and production of illicit drugs, especially synthetic drugs.”
As such the Global Coalition, a U.S. initiative, is welcome news. It aims to unite nations to combat the illicit manufacture and trafficking of such substances, said Todd D. Robinson, assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The group will form a 12- to 18-month partnership, where countries will allocate resources to combat trafficking, production, and sales according to national priorities and resources, Voice of America reported.
“We have invited China, but we have no indication that it will participate,” Robinson said on the eve of the Global Coalition meeting led in July by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. China did not show up. “[We want to] engage other countries in their anti-supply chain efforts and part of their responsibility will be to engage with the People’s Republic of China,” Robinson added.
“China [has] long exported precursor chemicals for synthetic drugs in a very aggressive way. Participating in this coalition means acknowledging responsibility, at least moral responsibility, in this crisis,” Douglas Farah, president of IBI Consultants, a U.S. Latin American threat research and analysis firm, told Diálogo on August 19. “As far as we can see, China is not making the slightest effort to provide a solution.”
Among the narcotics with the largest presence in global trafficking are tramadol, methamphetamine, Captagon, ketamine, and fentanyl. China is a major producer of the chemicals to manufacture the latter, which, according to Reuters, are often smuggled into the United States and Mexico. “China is not helping to crack down on the flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals or the money laundering associated with that trafficking,” Reuters reported.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed three indictments charging four Chinese companies with smuggling such precursors. Ken Salazar, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, told Voice of America that China has a great responsibility to be part of the solution.
“The seizure of 200 kilograms of precursors [from these companies] prevented the manufacture of about 55 kg of fentanyl, enough to kill 25 million people — the entire population of the state of New York or the state of Mexico,” Salazar told Voice of America, highlighting the potential damage. “That’s the potency of the poison that was coming from these Chinese companies.”
The indictment against these companies was filed in the Southern District of New York. Also indicted were their chief executives and two employees for “their role in the international fentanyl trafficking conspiracy.” Two of them are in custody, Infobae reported.
“We must continue to seek understanding with China and increase controls at ports controlled by them, from where these precursor chemicals leave,” Farah said. “Almost all of the largest ports in Latin America have a strong active Chinese presence. They have direct access to more than 40 ports, with total control or with docks where they have autonomy. Controlling what comes out of them is critical.”
“Drugs can be produced in one country, marketed in another, the profits can be obtained in a third country, while the criminal leaders can be in another,” Commissioner Patricio Navarro, head of Chile’s Investigative Police’s Investigative Brigade of Controlled Chemical Substances, told Diálogo. “So, a country alone is not going to overcome the problem of drug trafficking, but united it is possible. The international cooperation of police institutions is fundamental in the fight against drug trafficking and the international organizations that are dedicated to it.”