At a modern factory in a city whose main claim to fame is an image of the Virgin Mary revered for granting miracles, Mexican pharmaceuticals firm Grupo Collins churns out antibiotics and other medicines.
But the United States contends that the company in Zapopan is not what it seems. The U.S. Treasury put Grupo Collins on a black list in 2008, saying the firm supplies a small drug cartel in western Mexico with chemicals needed to make methamphetamines.
Grupo Collins, which has denied any connection to organized crime, is one of dozens under suspicion of laundering money for the nation’s booming drug business, whose growing economic impact now pervades just about every level of Mexican life.
Mexican cartels, which control most of the cocaine and methamphetamine smuggled into the United States, bring an estimated $25 billion to $40 billion into Mexico from their global operations every year.
To put that in perspective: Mexico probably made more money in 2009 moving drugs than it did exporting oil, its single biggest legitimate foreign currency earner.