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Sinaloa Cartel exports fentanyl ‘kitchens’ from Mexico to Colombia amid international crackdown

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — On March 16, two Mexican nationals arrived at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, Colombia. As both were getting off the plane, Colombian National Police officers approached them and asked for their documents. Even though they provided counterfeit passports using fake identities, the Colombians knew that their real names were Carlos Omar Felix and Silvano Francisco Mariano, two high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel members who were working under the infamous Guzman family.

While the Biden administration has launched a widely publicized hunt against the sons of drug lord and former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, collectively known as “Los Chapitos,” for allegedly being behind a massive operation of illegal fentanyl production and trafficking from Mexico into the U.S., the Guzman brothers are said to be one step ahead, moving their drug production from Sinaloa – the eponymous Mexican state home of the Sinaloa Cartel – to Colombia, according to sources inside the Colombian government and cartel operators.

The U.S. government had a $1 million warrant against Felix and Mariano, now captured by the Colombian government, for allegedly working for Ovidio Guzman, son of El Chapo, who was captured in January during a bloody operation that left several cartel members and Mexican soldiers dead and went for more than 10 hours.  

Stacks of money on a table that were seized in a raid in Colombia.

Prosecutor Francisco Barbosa announced that the equivalent of thousands of dollars in drug money was seized in a drug raid in Colombia. (Office of the Attorney General of Colombia)

ARMED SUSPECTED MEXICAN CARTEL MEMBERS ARRESTED ON TEXAS SIDE OF BORDER

“Carlos Omar Felix Gutierrez and [Silvano] Francisco Mariano, known as Rayo, operate clandestine fentanyl laboratories for the Cartel in and around Sinaloa where fentanyl precursor chemicals imported from China are processed into fully formed fentanyl for subsequent importation into the United States,” a recently unsealed indictment states.

Felix and Mariano had arrived in Bogota to oversee the operations of a series of new fentanyl “kitchens” established in one of the wealthiest areas in Colombia, an exported modus operandi from Sinaloa, according to the Colombian authorities.

Ovidio Guzman gunfight

A truck burns on a street in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, on Jan. 5, 2023. Mexican security forces captured Ovidio Guzman, an alleged drug trafficker wanted by the United States and one of the sons of former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in a pre-dawn operation that set off gunfights and roadblocks across the western state’s capital. (AP Photo/Martin Urista)

Months earlier, they had rented a high-end apartment in a residential apartment complex called Colina Campestre. From the outside, the apartment seemed just like the rest inside the complex, but on the inside, Colombian authorities found tables covered in blue powder – allegedly colored fentanyl – several pill pressing machines, precursors to manufacture fentanyl and several firearms, according to a presser by the Colombian National Police.

“What they were putting together was not a small production site, it had the capability to produce around 100,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills a day,” a source from the Colombian National Police told Fox News Digital who requested to remain anonymous for not having clearance to speak with the press.

Aerial shot of Bogota, Colombia.

Bogota, Colombia (iStock)

But a Sinaloa Cartel member actively operating on fentanyl trafficking from Sinaloa to Los Angeles said that Colombia “was just one of many testing sites.”

“What we established in Colombia was a testing site to see if we could get fenta (fentanyl) from the pharmacies and see if that was profitable, because if it is, then we could have an extra source for it,” the Sinaloa Cartel operative said.

Photo of drugs that were seized in Colombia.

Prosecutor Francisco Barbosa announced that 163 vials of fentanyl were seized in a drug raid in Colombia. (Office of the Attorney General of Colombia)

EL CHAPO’S SONS DENY FENTANYL TRAFFICKING ALLEGATIONS

Currently, pure fentanyl is widely provided illegally to Mexican drug cartels by China, according to recent investigation by U.S. authorities. But on a lower scale, China also exports precursors to manufacture fentanyl in Mexico.

But according to the cartel operative and the source inside the Colombian National Police, the Sinaloa Cartel is looking into the legal stream of fentanyl in Colombia, building a network of corruption inside hospitals, pharmacies and small clinics to buy high quantities of the drug to be later used in laboratories and processed into pills or mix it with heroin.

Fentanyl is still not widely known in Colombia, but testing in cocaine and in a new and popular substance called 2CB or “Tusi” have shown small traces, as revealed in recent official investigations.

Ovidio Guzman

In January, El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzman, was arrested during a morning raid in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. (AP Images)

In April, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) flagged the Sinaloa Cartel as “the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world,” and pointed specifically at “Los Chapitos,” Ivan Archivaldo, Jesus Alfredo, Joaquin and Ovidio Guzman, all sons of El Chapo Guzman. 

“Today’s indictments send a clear message to the Chapitos, the Sinaloa Cartel, and criminal drug networks around the world that the DEA will stop at nothing to protect the national security of the United States and the safety and health of the American people,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram at the unsealing of a large indictment against several members of the Sinaloa Cartel.

A month later, Los Chapitos responded to the indictment in a letter sent to a major Mexican news show through one of their attorneys and denied they had “any business with fentanyl.”

Ovidio Guzmán-López

Ovidio Guzman-Lopez, son of drug kingpin El Chapo. (US State Department)

“We are not the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, nor are we interested in being so,” Los Chapitos wrote. “We have never knowingly established relationships with people who traffic fentanyl.”

But evidence shows otherwise. Mexican authorities say they have seized more than 600 fentanyl labs in Sinaloa and have linked the Guzman family to them.

The seizures, at the most, have slowed the production in Mexico, but fentanyl is still arriving into the U.S. in large numbers, according to Customs and Border Protection recent figures.

Fentanyl San Clemente

Border Patrol makes fentanyl bust in San Clemente, California. (U.S. Border Patrol)

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During the first four months of 2023, authorities have seized more than 17,000 pounds of fentanyl from the different ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border, surpassing last year’s record of 14,000 pounds.

“If we can’t manufacture in Mexico anymore, we will find where, either it be Colombia, Ecuador or elsewhere. This will not stop,” the cartel operative said.

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