© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a news conference at the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection in Mexico City, Mexico March 9, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s president said on Tuesday he had written to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, urging him to help control shipments of fentanyl as he fended off criticism in the U.S. that Mexico is not doing enough to stop trafficking of the synthetic opioid.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador read out the letter to Xi dated March 22 in which he defended efforts to curb supply of the deadly drug, while rounding on U.S. critics, some of whom want Washington to intervene militarily in Mexico.
“We come to you, President Xi Jinping, not to ask for your support in the face of these rude threats, but to request that for humanitarian reasons, you help us control shipments of fentanyl that can be sent from China to our country,” he said.
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Speaking at a news conference, Lopez Obrador said the letter took shape after a recent visit by U.S. lawmakers, in which they proposed he speak to China to address the fentanyl threat.
The Chinese embassy in Mexico did not have any immediate comment on the letter.
Fentanyl has been blamed for fueling a surge in overdose deaths in the U.S., and Republican lawmakers especially have accused Mexico of failing to stop drug cartels producing and moving the powerful painkiller north.
In his letter, Lopez Obrador asked Xi if he could provide Mexico with information on when and where fentanyl was being sent, as well as how much and by whom.
Lopez Obrador says fentanyl laboratories have sprung up in Mexico, and he told Xi that law enforcement had last year destroyed nearly 1,400 clandestine labs mixing the drug with other substances, and seized seven tonnes of it.
A Reuters report found that many of the labs were inactive.
But Lopez Obrador says Mexico does not produce fentanyl and that cartels buy it direct from Asia. He said in the letter that only 30% of the drug consumed in the U.S. enters via Mexico.
U.S. officials contest the view that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico, arguing the opioid is mass-produced in the country using chemicals sourced largely from China.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has been at the forefront of U.S. pressure on Mexico, and on Monday he said he would put forward legislation on fentanyl that would include designating Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said countering the fentanyl threat was a top priority, and he pushed back against Graham’s criticism, saying the vast majority of people arrested in the U.S. 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 told the news conference.