The new York Times confirms for the rest of the U.S. what we Texans have known for quite a while; that Tougher Border Can’t Stop Mexican Marijuana Cartels
TUCSON — Drug smugglers parked a car transport trailer against the Mexican side of the border one day in December, dropped a ramp over the security fence, and drove two pickup trucks filled with marijuana onto Arizona soil. As Border Patrol agents gave chase, a third truck appeared on the Mexican side and gunmen sprayed machine-gun fire over the fence at the agents. Smugglers in the first vehicles torched one truck and abandoned the other, with $1 million worth of marijuana still in the truck bed. Then they vaulted back over the barrier into Mexico’s Sonora state.
Despite huge enforcement actions on both sides of the Southwest border, the Mexican marijuana trade is more robust — and brazen — than ever, law enforcement officials say. Mexican drug cartels routinely transported industrial-size loads of marijuana in 2008, excavating new tunnels and adopting tactics like ramp-assisted smuggling to get their cargoes across undetected.
But these are not the only new tactics: the cartels are also increasingly planting marijuana crops inside the United States in a major strategy shift to avoid the border altogether, officials said. Last year, drug enforcement authorities confiscated record amounts of high potency plants from Miami to San Diego, and even from vineyards leased by cartels in Washington State. Mexican drug traffickers have also moved into hydroponic marijuana production — cannabis grown indoors without soil and nourished with sunlamps — challenging Asian networks and smaller, individual growers here.
A Justice Department report issued last year concluded that Mexican drug trafficking organizations now operated in 195 cities, up from about 50 cities in 2006. “There is evidence that Mexican cartels are also increasing their relationships with prison and street gangs in the United States in order to facilitate drug trafficking,” a Congressional report from February 2008 stated.
Smuggling is still most conspicuous in the Southwest, which has been home to Mexican traffickers for more than two decades. From Nogales, Ariz., recently, a reporter watched as smugglers across the border, in hilltop stations, peered through binoculars at the movements of American Border Patrol agents. The agents gunned their trucks along the barrier looking for illegal crossings.
About noon, border agents saw a 60-pound bale of marijuana drop over the fence. “That kind of thing happens every day here,” said Agent Michael A. Scioli, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection.
For the cartels, “marijuana is the king crop,” said Special Agent Rafael Reyes, the chief of the Mexico and Central America Section of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It consistently sustains its marketability and profitability.”
But the price has been high. Tensions have increased among the cartels, which are warring over lucrative drug routes through Mexican border towns like Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales, Sonora. More than 6,000 people, including hundreds of police officers, were killed by drug-related violence in Mexico in 2008. United States Border Patrol agents are also reporting more violent confrontations with traffickers.
As the Mexican government and American authorities have hardened the border, drug cartels are increasing production just north of it to avoid resorting to smuggling.
Despite increased planting, the cartels still rely on smuggling. Near Nogales, Ariz., Mr. Scioli pointed out several cross-border tunnels, one of which extended from the backyard of a house, under the fence and into Mexico 40 yards away. Another series of cross-border tunnels made use of existing sewer lines or drainage pipes. They were among the nine smuggling tunnels drug enforcement agents have discovered there since 2003.
Despite the fact that the authorities are discovering more marijuana production inside the United States, most of the cartels’ leadership remains in Mexico and, for now, so does most of the violence. Still, recent photographs from Mexico of the decapitated heads of Mexican policemen play in the minds of law enforcement officials on this side of the border, who are vigilant for signs of spillover.
The Mexican police in Sonora “are stuck between two warring cartels,” said Anthony J. Coulson, a federal drug enforcement agent. “The cops are being killed as pawns. They’re being used to show how much power and control the cartels have.”
Sheriff Tony Estrada of Santa Cruz County said there was so much violence on the other side of the border that many Mexican police officers and politicians had become virtual refugees in Nogales, Ariz.
“The violence has left a large contingent of police on this side of the border,” Sheriff Estrada said. “The killing will stop when somebody dominates. When somebody takes control.”
Somehow I don’t think that the “somebody taking control” part will be the Mexican government. Overridden with corruption to the point that even their national petrochemical company PEMEX is bankrupt (and believe me, that’s a LOT of damned money to embezzle!), I sincerely doubt the Mexican government will be able to muster the intestinal fortitude to get their house in order; let alone stop the cartels.
I mean, we’re talking about MEXICO, for God’s sake. “Do the right thing?” “Battle corruption?” Puh-leeez!