MEXICO CITY—Banners that appear to ban the production of deadly illicit fentanyl have appeared around the Mexican city of Culiacan in Sinaloa, where the eponymous cartel is headquartered.
Signed by “Los Chapitos,” a collective of four of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons who control a powerful faction of the cartel, the banners, known as “narcomantas,” were spotted October 2 on footbridges and underpasses around the city.
The signs ban the production, transportation and sale of fentanyl in the city because of the government’s “failure to investigate the real ones to blame for the epidemic.”
“We have never liked the [fentanyl] business,” read the message on the signs.
The U.S. government, which recently extradited one of the Chapitos—Ovidio—to face trial on drug charges, would disagree.
Chapo’s sons have been accused of testing their fentanyl on humans, and feeding their victims to tigers. Pressure on Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to address his nation’s fentanyl production problem has never been greater, and the bilateral security relationship has rarely been worse.
But it’s not clear who put the signs up around Culiacan. Narcomantas are a common strategy for distributing messages as well as disinformation by different criminal groups. Sources told VICE News that the move is a ploy.
“The halt is a maneuver by los Chapitos to keep the [fentanyl] business all for themselves,” a cartel source, who asked not to be named, said.
“There are a lot of other families [of traffickers] who are mad at them because they have been killing a lot of people that used to produce fentanyl on their own and now they want the whole business for them. But I can tell you, fentanyl production hasn’t stopped in Sinaloa. And it will not stop,” said the cartel source.
Mexican criminal organizations—some of which have been in the fentanyl business for a decade—are now allegedly responsible for the majority of illicit fentanyl that is fuelling the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history. Some 75,000 people died in the U.S. last year from synthetic opioids.
The Sinaloa Cartel’s fentanyl business, which the DEA has placed firmly on the shoulders of Los Chapitos, has not waned despite the arrest, extradition and conviction of El Chapo, who underwent one of the most storied organized crime trials of a generation before being sentenced to life behind bars.
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