Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, June 29, 2020

Inside the Sinaloa Cartel's Fentanyl Smuggling Operations

"MX" for Borderland Beat; VICE News
Note: This article was written by Keegan Hamilton. The video was produced by Hamilton and Miguel Fernández-Flores. Editing was done by Brittany Ross.

Floating in a small fishing boat along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, their faces obscured by t-shirts and ski masks, the four Sinaloa Cartel members looked like pirates. This was months before the pandemic, when tourists were still sunbathing on the beach a few miles away. The masks were to disguise themselves as they smuggled ashore the chemicals used to make fentanyl.

VICE News gained access to a Sinaloa Cartel fentanyl trafficking operation for a few days last year, during the production of new podcast series called “Painkiller: America’s Fentanyl Crisis.” We watched masked cartel members hauling bundles of precursor chemicals out of the ocean, interviewed local bosses, and followed the process of cooking fentanyl into heroin, a combination of drugs that has fueled a surge in overdose deaths across the U.S.

Fentanyl can be made entirely with chemicals, and it’s more powerful than heroin, which is derived from opium poppy plants. While some illicit fentanyl still comes to the U.S. through the mail from China, a crackdown last year on the trade by Beijing has accelerated the outsourcing of production to clandestine labs in Mexico. Chinese traffickers supplying shipments of ingredients, along with the precursors used to cook methamphetamine.

“All the drug traffickers in Sinaloa chip in, they know that the shipment is going to arrive on a given day,” one cartel member told us. “The amount of money is enormous.”

The illicit cargo is offloaded from a large container ship in watertight bundles, which can float for hours until the timing is right for a pickup. The coordinates and tracking information is relayed by phone to a crew on the shore. The masked men we saw were sent to fish the bundles out of the ocean and haul them to the land. Another group then takes the chemicals to “offices” or safehouses in the area.

Mexican cartels have been involved in the heroin trade for decades, but the arrival of fentanyl has made the business even more lucrative. Fentanyl is used to boost the potency of heroin, creating a product that can be diluted by dealers all down the supply chain and still retain value. The risk for users is that it leads to unpredictable and deadly doses.

At a clandestine lab on the outskirts of Culiacán, Sinaloa, in the territory of cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, we watched cartel members blend fentanyl into brown powdered heroin. The process was haphazard, involving large metal cookware and eyeballed measurements. The cooks sipped cans of Tecate Light beer throughout the process, as armed men stood guard. The finished product got refined into powder and packed into taped-up bricks, which were stashed in the trunk of a car, ultimately headed north to the U.S. border.

Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York division, estimates that 80-90% of the fentanyl and heroin sold in New York City is produced by the Sinaloa Cartel. Donovan coordinated the operation to capture Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, and he said the former cartel boss was “one of the main players pushing fentanyl into the United States.”

Despite the successful extraditions and convictions of kingpins like El Chapo, Donovan said, the illicit fentanyl business is still booming.

“These are international criminal organizations that are interconnected because of globalization and technology,” Donovan said. “It’s ultimately greed and money and power. That's what it comes down to.

Note: This article was written by Keegan Hamilton. The video was produced by Hamilton and Miguel Fernández-Flores. Editing was done by Brittany Ross.


  1. This fentanyl stuff is forbidden within the los zetas group as is crystal the 3 amigos of el lazca z40 and z42 have despatched some of their finest assassins from the Scottish highlands el mchummer and el mcmamito to put a stop to such activities


  2. It's STUPID how the CDS guys love the ATTENTION..
    Pretty much SNITCHING on THEMSELVES 😆 tontos!!!

  3. Interesting article BB.
    The issue remains? How can we curb demand & fatalities? Moreover, actually make a dent in the war on drugs.

  4. With all the Sinaloa Cartel members locked up over the last 10 years the US has to know the what, where, why, how and when. What a stressful job being a Cartel boss: Murder, shipments lost, wars, informants,Various Governments, Payments, treachery.
    I bet El Mayo and El Mencho haven't had more than 5 hrs sleep in years. Mayo probably since he was a teenager. Does anyone notice how you never here of multi-ton shipments of heroin getting busted? HTTPS is your friend BB. Why isn't it activated?

  5. What’s worse ?, staging a dismemberment to heat up the plaza by killing a girl, or pushing this man made poison on the US population...
    Sinaloa is done! and at an all time low..

  6. I new Sinaloa’s were weak. Drinking lite Tecate’s. Or maybe they’re watching their figure??

  7. This are real drug barons not like them michocanos cowards killing a inocent little girl fxcking HDP fxck all michoacan

  8. If there was no demand for drugs there would be no supply.

    No supply = no drug problem

  9. "it's ultimately about greed, mo ey and power"
    So why differentiate between politicians, bankers and drug dealers??

  10. its crazy how journalists are willing to make these crazy risks just to get a story that many take for granted.

    when I see videos like this, where the journalist is there amongst these guys i often wonder, imagine theyre theyr doing their job and a rival group shows up ,or what if they suddenly get raided, military or police run into them while cooking or interviewing, i wonder if they would get arrested aswell or what? theyre in a place where illegal activity is taking place, theyre recording but not alerting the authorities, or is that ok to do?

    1. That video is a fugazi,.. That is why in the video there not at all worried about any illegal practices going on.
      non of the drugs are real,...well to bake bread whith it afterward.

  11. Snitchaloas swear they only mess w other drug dealers , and not innocents, they also swear that they’re “too good” to move ice or H... bunch of delusional monkeys..


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