Mexico’s president has written to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, urging him to help control shipments of fentanyl, while also complaining of “rude” US pressure to curb the drug trade.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has previously said that fentanyl is the US’s problem and is caused by “a lack of hugs” in US families. On Tuesday he read out the letter to Xi dated 22 March in which he defended efforts to curb supply of the deadly drug, while rounding on US critics.
López Obrador complained about calls in the US to designate Mexican drug gangs as terrorist organisations. Some Republicans have said they favour using the US military to crack down on Mexican cartels.
“Unjustly, they are blaming us for problems that in large measure have to do with their loss of values, their welfare crisis,” López Obrador wrote to Xi in the letter.
“These positions are in themselves a lack of respect and a threat to our sovereignty, and moreover they are based on an absurd, manipulative, propagandistic and demagogic attitude.”
Only after several paragraphs of venting, López Obrador brings up China’s exports of fentanyl precursors, and asked him to help stop shipments of chemicals that Mexican cartels import from China.
“I write to you, President Xi Jinping, not to ask your help on these rude threats, but to ask you for humanitarian reasons to help us by controlling the shipments of fentanyl,” the Mexican president wrote.
China has taken some steps to limit fentanyl exports, but mislabelled or harder-to-detect precursor chemicals continue to pour out of Chinese factories.
It was not immediately clear if Xi had received the letter or if he had responded to it. López Obrador has a history of writing confrontational letters to world leaders without getting a response.
López Obrador has angrily denied that fentanyl is produced in Mexico. However, his own administration has acknowledged finding dozens of labs where it is produced, mainly in the northern state of Sinaloa.
Most illegal fentanyl is pressed by Mexican cartels into counterfeit pills made to look like other medications such as Xanax, oxycodone or Percocet, or mixed into other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Many people who die of overdoses in the US do not know they are taking fentanyl.
López Obrador doubled down on his advice to strengthen family values in the US on Tuesday. He claims that close-knit families have allowed Mexico to avoid a fentanyl crisis, though the country has a huge problem with domestic methamphetamine consumption.
“I would tell them, for example, to keep their children at home longer, don’t kick them out of the house, keep them (at home) for two or three years more,” he said during a news conference.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has been blamed for about 70,000 overdose deaths a year in the US. Experts say Mexican cartels are making so much money from the US market that they see no need to sell fentanyl in their home market.
In the US, Republican senator Lindsey Graham has been at the forefront of pressure on Mexico, and on Monday he said he would put forward legislation on fentanyl that would include designating Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organisations.
The Mexican foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, pushed back against Graham’s criticism, saying on Tuesday that the vast majority of people arrested in the US for trafficking fentanyl are Americans.
“There’s no other country in the world that’s doing as much against fentanyl trafficking to the United States as Mexico,” Ebrard said.