The Arzate Garcia brothers from Tijuana face US sanctions for their role in the Sinaloa Cartel

US sanctions target Sinaloa Cartel's key figures, highlighting fentanyl's devastating impact and sparking bilateral debate on its origin.
  1. The US intensifies its crackdown on the Sinaloa Cartel, spotlighting the Arzate brothers and Rafael Núñez as key figures.
  2. Discrepancies arise between US and Mexican authorities regarding fentanyl’s production origin, igniting bilateral discussions.
  3. The lethal opioid fentanyl, linked to the cartel, claims over 70,000 lives in the US, prompting urgent action.

On Wednesday, August 9, as part of their efforts to combat drug trafficking, US authorities sanctioned three operators from the Sinaloa Cartel, believed to be deeply involved in the trafficking of fentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid. “Today’s action targets key individuals responsible for facilitating the trafficking of deadly drugs like fentanyl into the United States, where it wreaks havoc in our communities,” stated Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

The moves were implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury Department. As a result, all properties owned by the identified traffickers in the United States have been seized to disrupt their criminal networks.

Central to this list are brothers Alfonso and René Arzate García, recognized as “high-level operators” within the Sinaloa Cartel. Operating out of the border city of Tijuana, Baja California, they stand as the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. Their criminal operations span from shipping synthetic drugs like fentanyl to the US to committing homicides. “The Arzate Garcia brothers are known to be extremely violent and are also involved in tactical operations such as kidnapping and executions,” commented the Treasury Department.

(Photo: US Treasury Department)
(Photo: US Treasury Department)

Owing to their notorious past, both Alfonso and René Arzate, colloquially known as “El Aquiles” and “El Rana,” respectively, were indicted on charges of drug trafficking in the Southern District Court of California, based on evidence presented in July 2014. However, they remain at large.

Beyond the Arzate siblings, sanctions were also imposed on Rafael Guadalupe Félix Núñez, who goes by the pseudonym “El Changuito Ántrax.” Originally serving the Sinaloa Cartel as a hitman, he distanced himself from the Beltrán Leyva faction in 2008. This departure led to the formation of a new group, conceived by Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, also known as “Chino Ántrax,” who met his demise in Culiacán in 2020. As per the Biden administration, El Changuito is an influential and aggressive figurehead of the Sinaloa Cartel based in Manzanillo, Colima.

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The city’s port acts as a conduit for drugs, including cocaine from Colombia and the precursor chemicals from Asia necessary for fentanyl production, ultimately making their way to the US. “El Changuito,” a co-founder of Los Anthrax – the Sinaloa Cartel’s armed division, was apprehended by Mexican officials in 2014. Nevertheless, he fled from a Culiacan prison in 2017 and has evaded capture since.

The drug at the heart of this crisis, fentanyl, is a synthetic opioid boasting a potency fifty times that of morphine. It has been the root cause of the most severe drug epidemic in US history, with over 70,000 individuals succumbing to its overdose last year alone.

Contrary to this, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has consistently refuted claims that fentanyl is being manufactured on Mexican soil. He asserts that the narcotic is shipped directly from China to the US, with only a fractional amount transiting through Mexico.

However, earlier this week, on August 8, the chief of the US State Department’s anti-drug division reiterated that “fentanyl is indeed manufactured in Mexico” and, while the bilateral effort to stem its trafficking has been commendable, there’s room for improvement. “Everything we’ve seen shows that fentanyl is being manufactured in Mexico, and we know that its precursor chemicals are coming from China,” remarked Todd Robinson, assistant secretary for international narcotics affairs.