Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Elliot Spagat / The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Customs and Border Protection officer Steve Delgado looks in at the dismembered dashboard of a Honda Accord after finding more than 14 pounds of methamphetamine hidden behind the radio at the San Ysidro port of entry on Thursday in San Diego.
A Customs and Border Protection officer speaks to a driver at the San Ysidro port of entry on Thursday in San Diego.
The government has expanded X-ray inspections of cars at the border in recent years, but increased production in Mexico and the Sinaloa cartel's presence are driving the seizures, Garcia said. "This is a new corridor for them," he said.
The U.S. government shut large methamphetamine labs during the last decade as it introduced sharp limits on chemicals used to make the drug, causing production to shift to Mexico.
The U.S. State Department said in March that the Mexican government seized 958 labs under former President Felipe Calderon from 2006 to 2012, compared with 145 under the previous administration. Mexico seized 267 labs last year, up from 227 in 2011.
As production moved to central Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel found opportunity in Tijuana in 2008 when it backed a breakaway faction of the Arellano Felix clan, named for a family that controlled the border smuggling route for two decades. Sinaloa, led by Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, had long dominated nearby in eastern California and Arizona.
Tijuana registered 844 murders in 2008 in a turf war that horrified residents with castrated bodies hanging from bridges. After the Sinaloa cartel prevailed, the Mexican border city of more than 2 million people returned to relative calm, with 332 murders last year and almost no public displays of brutality.
Alfonzo "Achilles" Arzate and his younger brother Rene, known as "The Frog," have emerged as top Sinaloa operatives in Tijuana — the former known as the brains and the latter as the brawn. The elder Arzate has been mentioned on wire intercepts for drug deals as far as Chicago, Hill said.
He appears to have gained favor with the Sinaloa cartel brass after another cartel operative raided one of his warehouses in October 2010, leading to a shootout and the government seizing 134 tons of marijuana.
Methamphetamine has also turned into a scourge throughout Tijuana, becoming the most common drug offense for dealers and consumers in the last five years, said Miguel Angel Guerrero, coordinator of the Baja California state attorney general's organized crime unit.
"It has increased a lot in the city because it's cheaper than cocaine, even cheaper than marijuana," he said.
Disputes among street dealers lead to spurts of violence in Tijuana, said Guerrero, including April's murder tally of 56 bodies. But the killings pale in numbers and brutality compared to the dark days of 2008 and 2009. While president, Calderon hailed Tijuana as a success story in his war on cartels.
"The Sinaloa cartel, their presence here has been strong enough to the point that no one is pushing back," said the DEA's Hill. "They just simply want to focus on making money and moving the dope across."