Growing Air Corridor for Synthetic Drugs at the US-Mexico Border

Mexican authorities have intercepted a succession of flights carrying synthetic drugs to the northern state of Sonora, with the state gaining greater prominence as a smuggling corridor to the United States.

On April 8, the Mexican army and air force forced an unknown plane off course and seized more than 370 kilograms of drugs it had hastily dropped off, including 276 kilograms of methamphetamine and 49 kilograms of fentanyl, according to a Department of Defense press release.

Months earlier, on January 24, authorities issued a remarkably similar ban when a plane from the Sinaloa state capital, Culiacán, was chased down. Upon landing in the Sonora municipality of Puerto Peñasco, authorities found 39 kilograms of methamphetamine and 65 kilograms of fentanyl, among other drugs.

SEE ALSO: Synthetic drugs flood the California border between the United States and Mexico

About a week earlier, on January 15, another stowaway plane was forced to land in Puerto Peñasco. He was carrying 433 kilograms of methamphetamine and 29 kilograms of fentanyl. Significant aerial seizures of synthetic drugs also occurred throughout 2021 in Sonora.

However, air traffic has not entirely replaced other methods of smuggling in Sonora. In March, Mexican authorities seized an as-yet-unshipped shipment of drugs believed to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel, securing nearly 1.9 metric tons of methamphetamine and 57 kilograms of fentanyl.

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Sonora’s role in the synthetic drug trade is defined by its geography: to the west it receives Asian precursor chemicals from its port of Guaymas, to the south it borders Mexico’s main synthetic drug producer, Sinaloa, and to the north, it borders the US state of Arizona.

As such, “Sonora has always been a key entry point,” said Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, an organized crime expert and head of security research programs at the University’s Center for Mexican-American Studies. from California to San Diego.

“[Nowadays]small private aircraft have increasingly become a concern for the movement of drugs [north]she told InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: The three criminal fronts trigger violence in Sonora, Mexico

Interestingly, in recent years it is Baja California neighboring Sonora that has become Mexico’s synthetic drug highway. Methamphetamine and fentanyl prohibited at U.S. border crossings have been overwhelmingly concentrated between and at California ports of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) seizure data.

However, Sonora’s share of traffic seems to be increasing. In 2019, Mexican media were already reporting on the growing presence of synthetic drug flows. Since then, CBP data shows a notable increase in fentanyl seizures at the US border with Sonora — more than in other border states.

The recent spate of drug thefts points to the same conclusion, especially since the Department of Defense has reported only one similar seizure in Baja California since January 2021, despite departmental radars theoretically covering the spaces. airlines of both States equally.

A confounding factor that may mask Sonora’s heightened level of importance is also that loads of synthetic drugs in Sonora are sometimes routed to Baja California to then be smuggled into the United States, according to Mexican authorities, but rarely the other way around. In these cases, border seizure data listing a California ban does not record its sonic transit, thus artificially minimizing the latter’s share of traffic.

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Alvin J. Chase