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An estimated 275 "metric tons" of cocaine (a metric ton is 90% of a full ton, which is 2,240 pounds) arrive in Mexico each year, ready for transport into the U.S. -- and of those 275 metric tons the authorities average seizing about 36 metric tons. Doing the math quickly that indicates that about 239 metric tons of cocaine arrive in the U.S. annually, according to the GAO figures.
As for heroin and marijuana, the GAO's data shows that about 19 metric tons of heroin are produced in Mexico annually (only 1 metric ton is seized by the U.S. each year); and about 9,400 metric tons of marijuana are grown annually in Mexico, of which 2,900 metric tons are confiscated each year by U.S. law enforcement personnel (GAO). When it comes to methamphetamine, the GAO says no accurate estimate as to the amounts manufactured in Mexico, but seizures at the border with the U.S. have gone up exponentially since 2000, giving the distinct impression that there are likely widespread cartel meth production facilities that are unchecked in remote parts of Mexico. For example, in 2000 U.S. border seizures of meth totaled about 500 kilograms, but by 2005 that number rose to 2,900 kilograms -- and there is no indication that less is being seized in 2009.
How bad is it? Cocaine, Cash, and Other Drugs Seized at Mexico City Airport
According to the Mexican newspapers El Universal and La Jornada -- and the Secretariat of Safety of Mexico -- there have been numerous seizures of drugs at the Mexico City International Airport (MCIA). For example, on June 19, 2008, authorities seized thirty-five kilograms of cocaine from Costa Rica; on June 18, 2008, authorities seized 26 kilograms of cocaine on a flight from Bogota Columbia. On June 12, 2008 MCIA authorities confiscated a shipment of 14.6 kilograms of cocaine from Lima, Peru, and on May 20, 2008 580 kilograms of "pseudo ephedrine" were seized at MCIA. The list goes on: 2,213 kilograms of pseudo ephedrine seized at MCIA on February 15, 2008; 26 kilograms of ephedrine seized on April 28, 2008; 6.83 kilograms of cocaine seized at MCIA on April 1, 2009; and on May 11, 2009, 652 kilograms of cocaine were confiscated at MCIA. If this many kilos of drugs are being seized at MCIA, then how many kilos are arriving or leaving that are not seized? The analogy is usually made using cockroaches; if one or two are spotted climbing up the wall, it is likely that hundreds are crawling around inside the wall. Hence, if 50 kilos of cocaine are confiscated at any border, it is probably (as a projection) that many hundreds of kilos are getting safely through the border some way.
The amount of bulk currency seized at MCIA is eye-popping; using information from El Universal and the Secretariat of Safety, these numbers are estimates but believed to be reasonably accurate. The amount of money seized from confiscated boxes and briefcases full of U.S. dollars at MCIA between from February 2008 to January 2009 is a staggering $4,244,000.
How bad it is? Use of Aviation by Mexican Cartels is not a New Story
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime announced in 2006 that the success of "narcotic efforts at airports" depends on the professional level of the law enforcement personnel -- and on the coordination of their activities with other agencies. There were no specifics offered, just a memo to "reinforce regional cooperation among airports and encourage the adoption of harmonized procedures and methods in drug control" (www.unodc.org).
Drug Enforcement Administration COO Michael A. Braun testified before the House International Relations Committee on November 9, 2005; his subject was "The Illicit Drug Transit Zone in Central America." Braun explained, "Air smuggling continues to be an important smuggling method" for transporting cocaine; there are "literally hundreds of airstrips" in Central American like Guatemala and Belize, Braun continued. He noted that between 2004 and 2005, there has been a "documented increase" in the number of flights at night beginning in Colombia and landing in "northern Central America."
Indeed, he asserted that from January 1, 2005, to September 30, 2005, there were 26 "High-Confidence Suspect Air Tracks" (flights documented by air traffic monitors) confirmed. Of those, the joint task force interdicted two, which resulted in the seizure of 1,700 kilos of cocaine and the arrest of five smugglers (Braun, 2005). One wonders, if only two out of 26 known illicit aircraft are typically stopped, then how many aircraft carrying contraband into Mexico and Central American landing strips are not interdicted?
Braun asserted that aerial photographs show an "aircraft graveyard" in the northern Peten area of Guatemala, demonstrating the drug traffickers either crashed their planes during landing attempts, or they landed safely and then destroyed the planes in an attempt to get rid of key evidence. Once having landed in this remote region, traffickers then use vehicles over dusty, non-monitored roadways to bring the drugs into Mexico.
How bad is it? Mayors & Other Mexican Officials Arrested May 26, 2009
How deep has corruption reached into the community when it comes to local political activities in Mexico? The answer is of course that no one knows for certain, but on Tuesday May 26, 2009, Mexican security forces arrested 10 mayors and 17 other government officials (Wilkinson, 2009). An article in the Los Angeles Times reports that in a sweep of Michoacan, "home to a fast-growing group of drug traffickers," the arrests of mayors and other local officials was the "largest operation to target politicians" in the history of Mexico's "bloody drug war" (Wilkinson, A-19).
Among those detained include a close advisor to Michoacan Governor Leonel Godoy, a judge and "several top regional public security officials," the Times' article explained. The main drug cartel in Michoacan is "La Familia," which is "extremely violent" and has recently expanded its influence into at least three other states, the article asserts. Reginaldo Sandoval, the president of the Labor Party in Morelia (the capital of Michoacan) told the Times "Everything is so corrupt here, from top to bottom, the [federal] government had to show it was doing something."
The state of Michoacan has 113 municipalities, and according to Mexican intelligence sources 83 of those "…are mixed up at some level with narcos" (Willkinson). The government has certainly plenty of justification for moving in and attempting to hold politicians accountable given that recently "…dozens of mayors and other local officials have been killed or kidnapped" by La Familia, according to the Times' story. And those killings have been carried out with "chilling, disciplined efficiency" -- including severed heads being left on front porch steps as a warning to those who may try to interfere.
La Familia has expanded well beyond the communities of Michoacan, according to the story in the Times; indeed La Familia has "set up shop in 20 to 30 cities and towns across the United States," according to a law enforcement official in the U.S. The La Familia drugs of choice include marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine, and they have set up meth labs in the "virtually lawless area" of southwest Michoacan (Tierra Caliente) where in 2006 the cartel "notoriously tossed five human heads onto a dance floor, an early signal of how grisly the drug war would become" (Wilkinson).
Indeed, several of the town mayors arrested Tuesday May 26 were from Tierra Caliente. But as to how much good it will do in the fight against the cartels, Alberto Islas, a security analyst in Mexico City, told the Times "…it won't have an impact on the amount of drugs going to the United States…at the end of the day, the mayors and politicians are just another instrument in the cartel's business" (Wilkinson).
Journalists who write about drug cartels and drug trafficking in Mexico have frequently been targets of the cartels. To wit, Milenio television and newspaper journalist Eliseo Barron was "snatched from his home" and killed on May 25, the second journalist in Durango state in the month of May. Barron's body was found in an irrigation ditch "with signs he had been tortured and shot" (Wilkinson).
How bad is it? 53 Drug Cartel Members Were Recently Sprung From Prison
On Saturday May 16, 2009, a well-planned operation at the Zacatecas state prison was carried out, freeing 53 inmates -- many of them "cartel gunmen," according to Tracy Wilkinson in the LA Times (May 18, 2009). Not a single shot was fired, leaving the distinct impression that it was "an inside job," Wilkinson writes. In fact, the governor of the state, Amalia Garcia, said, "It is clear to us that this was perfectly planned" and shortly after the jailbreak the prison warden and a pair of top guards were arrested and charged with complicity in the escape.
The video camera footage of the operation showed a convoy of 17 vehicles approaching the prison, with a helicopter hovering above the convoy.…[continue]
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