WASHINGTON—Mexican drug traffickers have pushed aside their Colombian counterparts and now dominate the U.S. market in the biggest reorganization of the trade since the rise of the Colombian cartels in the 1980s, U.S. officials say.
Mexican groups now are behind much of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine on U.S. streets, the officials say, with Mexican law enforcement agencies viewed as either too weak or too corrupt to stop them.
Mexico’s role as a drug-trafficking hub has been growing for some time, but its grip on the $400-billion-a-year trade has strengthened in recent years. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last month, 92 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States in 2004 came through the U.S.-Mexico border, compared with 77 percent in 2003.
And the Key West-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates federal drug interdiction efforts and intelligence, has reported almost 90 percent of the cocaine heading to the U.S. market goes by boat to Mexico or other countries in Central America, and then by land to the U.S. border.
The DEA noted 14 cities as “staging areas:” Albuquerque, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Laredo, Los Angeles, McAllen, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Tulsa, San Antonio, San Diego and Tucson.
U.S. law enforcement agencies have uncovered over 30 tunnels below the border built by drug traffickers. One congressional aide described them as “industry-standard tunnels that you would find in a mining operation.”
The Mexicans also offer a more varied menu of drugs than their Colombian counterparts, who traditionally dealt in cocaine and heroin. According to the DEA, Mexico is the second-largest supplier of heroin in the United States after Colombia, and the largest foreign supplier of marijuana.
Mexican gangs also are becoming a major force in the burgeoning methamphetamine trade by setting up production laboratories on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In 2004, a record 3,600 pounds of methamphetamine was seized along the south-west border, a 74 percent rise since 2001, according to DEA figures.
Then there’s Mexico’s police corruption, which Placido called the “single largest impediment to seriously impacting the drug trafficking problem in Mexico.”
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Reuters, July 29
NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico,—Rival drug cartel gunmen fired bazookas, tossed hand grenades and raked each other with machine gun fire in a battle at a home near the U.S. border, police said Friday.
The battle erupted late Thursday when a squad of about 30 masked men opened fire on a suspected drug cartel safe house on a residential street in Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, blasting off its doors and strafing the facade with bullets.
Nuevo Laredo is a key hub for trade in goods and illegal drugs bound for Texas. It is currently in the grip of a war between powerful drug cartels seeking control of lucrative cocaine, marijuana and amphetamine smuggling routes.
At least 79 people, including 18 police officers, have been shot to death in the city this year in the battle between powerful and well-armed gangs from the western state of Sinaloa and the local Gulf cartel.
The U.S. State Department issued two warnings to American citizens traveling to Mexico this year. The caution was repeated this week by U.S. ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, who singled out Nuevo Laredo as a crime black spot.
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