March 3, 2014
They don’t call the nerve centers behind Mexican cartels’ massive meth ventures “super labs” for nothing. Unlike explosive shake ‘n bakes and toothless backwoods operations, which at best can produce about an ounce of the highly addictive psychostimulant in 24 hours, one Mexican meth super lab can crank out 10 pounds of “ice”—the most potent form of meth—every day.
That is a lot of high-grade meth, the clear stuff revered for looking quite like actual crystals. And it’s this capability to quickly produce ice en masse, coupled with a close proximity to a regional market long steeped in the meth trade, that has Mexican ice flooding portions of the American Southeast, just one of the end points of a globe-spanning underworld of meth trafficking.
Take Gulfport, Mississippi, the second largest city in the Gulf Coast state. Untold “hundreds of kilos of ice” have turned up in Gulfport over the past few years, as the Associated Press reports. Much of this product traces back to certain Mexican crime syndicates and their respective superlabs, according to Daniel Comeaux, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Gulfport office. By his count, around 20 Mexican cartel members have been pinched in ice investigations across southern Mississippi alone.
“Drug cartels are trying to infiltrate different states and are setting up cell heads as distributors,” Comeaux told the AP. “That’s what we are seeing here.”
Those cell heads then charge local dealers top dollar (often several hundred dollars per pound) for the stuff, the AP adds. But even lowly drug runners, the very men and women who physically move large quantities of illegal substances from Points A to B to C to D (and so on), quite possibly by “hacking” shipping containers, stand to gain here: In just the last year, a handful of mules prosecuted by US agents said they were individually paid between $3,000 and $5,000 to transport bulk ice shipments to southern Mississippi.
Such windfall profits are pots of gold at the end of a tweaked rainbow, in this case a sophisticated global network of meth manufacturing and distribution forged by Mexican cartels like the Knights Templar and organized gangs in the People’s Republic. Indeed, before they land in Gulfport, there’s a good chance those kilos upon kilos of ice are crystallizing in cartel-run super labs by way of secret precursor labs on the other side of the world, in China.
It might sound almost stranger than fiction, like something that could’ve been fit for Breaking Bad. But then this is China, where Breaking Bad could’ve (should’ve?) been set. We know full well, too, that the Knights Templar, in particular, is shipping iron ore to the People’s Republic in exchange for meth precursor chemicals, which are delivered straight to ports in Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo.
So the question, now that the world’s top drug lord has been nabbed in a joint US-Mexico phone dragnet, is not just whether high-power Mexican ice will cast an even chillier cloud over Gulfport and beyond. What will the DEA actually do about it?