US targets Mexican fentanyl cartels after Robert de Niro’s nephew death by overdose

US officials unite to disrupt fentanyl flow, targeting Mexican cartels and Chinese suppliers following high-profile tragedies.

If anything was needed for the fentanyl crisis in the United States to set off all the public health alarms, the death of Robert De Niro’s grandson from a fentanyl overdose shocked public opinion.

Politicians of all parties have this issue on the agenda as one of the most important ones, and both at the state and federal levels, different legislations are advancing to toughen the fight against this drug that is killing young people by the tens of thousands every year.

This issue is also becoming the subject of the electoral campaign for next year’s presidential elections, and politicians are competing for who will propose the most radical measures.

But there are points on which all parties agree. This was demonstrated by both Democratic and Republican senators in recent days when at the end of June, they approved in the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee an initiative that allows the U.S. president to block the accounts, seize the assets and prohibit all transactions of members of Mexican cartels accused of trafficking fentanyl.

According to its name, the bill seeks to “impose sanctions with respect to the illicit trafficking of fentanyl and its precursors by transnational criminal organizations, including cartels.”

Which cartels are targeted

First, the rule states that “international trafficking in fentanyl, fentanyl precursors, or other related opioids constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” It also defines this situation as “a national emergency.”

“The proliferation of fentanyl is causing an unprecedented increase in overdose deaths in the United States, fracturing families and communities, and necessitating a comprehensive policy response to combat its lethal flow and mitigate the drug’s devastating consequences,” the text adds.

FOTO DE ARCHIVO: El edificio del Capitolio de Estados Unidos se ve en Washington, Estados Unidos. 5 de abril, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/Archivo
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building is in Washington, United States. April 5, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File

The Banking Committee approved the initiative at the end of June, and now goes to the full House for consideration. It states that it will be “the policy of the United States to apply economic and other financial sanctions against those involved in the international trafficking of fentanyl, fentanyl precursors, or other related opioids to protect the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

The rule seeks to attack what is happening with two countries: Mexico and China. The Asians because they are accused of illegally selling precursor chemicals used to produce the drug. Mexico, because it is there where drug cartels produce it.

The text explicitly defines that these sanctions will seek to sanction any member of the Sinaloa Cartel, Jalisco Cartel – New Generation, Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas Cartel, Juarez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Beltran-Leyva Cartel, and La Familia Michoacana.

En 70% del territorio de México operan 18 cárteles (Ilustración: Infobae México/Jovani Pérez Silva)
Eighteen cartels operate in 70% of Mexico’s territory (Illustration: Infobae Mexico/Jovani Pérez Silva).

It also allows the president to add any other criminal organization to that list.

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Sanctions imposed

The lawmakers intend that with this law, the U.S. president has the power to “block and prohibit all transactions in property and rights in property” of any member determined to be a member of the drug cartels listed “if such property and interests in property are in the United States or under the possession or control of a person of the United States.”

The text also provides that any seized property must be deposited into the Treasury Department’s Forfeiture Fund.

It also requires the Treasury Department to require U.S. financial institutions to take steps to sever ties with foreign banks or institutions that they have “reasonable grounds” to believe are being used to launder opioid drug money.

The President must report periodically to Congress on actions the Executive Branch took on foreign nationals identified as members of such cartels. It also requires the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control to make a confidential report on the personnel dedicated to each sanctions program.

When this rule is passed, Congress will also compel the Treasury Department and federal agencies to report what actions China is taking to prosecute those involved in the shipment of precursors for fentanyl manufacture.

Why it’s an emergency

Fentanyl has become the biggest health emergency in North America. In both the United States and Canada, hundreds of thousands of young people have died from drug overdoses.

The death of Leandro Rodriguez, Robert De Niro’s grandson, shocked American society, and according to the young man’s mother, the cause of death was that “someone sold him pills laced with fentanyl.”

Robert De Niro junto a su hija Drena y su nieto Leandro (Instagram)
Robert De Niro with his daughter Drena and his grandson Leandro (Instagram).

“They knew they were laced and still sold them to him,” said Drena, Leandro’s mother. “So, for all these people who keep fucking around selling and buying this shit, my son is gone forever.”

Fentanyl is an opioid that, as an analgesic, can be used to attack severe pain. But which, even in small doses, can be dangerous. Experts say it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The global report 2023 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) ensures that in 2021 about 80,000 people died from opioid overdose in the United States, 60% more than the previously available data from 2019.