Billions of dollars invested in state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, fences and armed agents to secure the U.S.-Mexico border have not stopped Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most powerful drug kingpin, from building secret tunnels to smuggle his illicit merchandise into the U.S. market.
Last week, U.S. law enforcement authorities discovered a deep tunnel running 600 yards from Mexico into a warehouse in San Diego’s Otay Mesa suburb. “It is one of the most sophisticated underground drug smuggling passageways ever discovered, complete with electricity, ventilation and an electronic rail system,” wrote The New York Times.
Federal agents seized eight tons of marijuana and 325 pounds of cocaine. The drugs have a street value of up to $75 million according to various estimates and depending on where it would have been sold.
Laura Duffy, the United States attorney for the San Diego region, tied the tunnel to Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. Considered the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in the world, the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for an estimated 25% of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. via Mexico.
DEA said that this is the first time traffickers try to move cocaine through tunnels. “They are desperate,” William R. Sherman, special agent in charge for the DEA in San Diego, told The New York Times. But Eric Olson, an expert on border security at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told me he disagrees. “Far from being desperate, the tunnel illustrates the ingenuity of the cartels and what they are able to do given their resources. They have mastered many ways to penetrate the border using low tech as well as high tech methods so if one avenue is closed it represents only a temporary interruption in the supply and demand chain.”
The tunnel took a year to build and involved the expertise of architects and engineers. It’s the fifth so-called “super tunnel” discovered since 2010 in the San Diego area. With the exception of one tunnel, which was linked to the Arellano Félix Tijuana syndicate, authorities believe the Sinaloa Cartel is behind all the rest. The San Diego-Tijuana border is the Sinaloa Cartel’s main smuggling entrance point into the U.S.
Bank notes part of a seizure of more than 15 m...
Money seized to Sinaloa Cartel. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)
The tunnel is the latest example of how El Chapo makes a mockery of U.S. law enforcement. Despite vast resources invested by the U.S. and Mexican governments in trying to find him, Guzmán has successfully avoided capture since his escape from a high-security prison 12 years ago.
Given the National Security Agency’s reportedly massive surveillance capabilities in Mexico, where the NSA has hacked two presidents’ e-mails and text messages, one wonders why U.S. intelligence has failed to find El Chapo. After Osama bin Laden was killed, Guzmán became the world’s most wanted man.
Another example of Guzmán’s bravado took place in 2011. That year, he sent his wife, former Sinaloa beauty Queen Emma Coronel, to a hospital in Lancaster, California, 60 miles north of Los Angeles, to deliver the couple’s twin babies. U.S. law enforcement authorities kept an eye on Mrs. Guzmán, but they could not detain her for interrogation. Not only is she an American citizen, but there are no charges pending against her. After the delivery, Mrs. Guzmán went back to Mexico carrying Guzman’s two American citizen baby girls.
So far no action by the U.S. government against Guzmán, including targeting his multimillion dollar money laundering operation to squeeze his finances, has been successful. The $7 million reward offered for information leading to his arrest –$5 million by the U.S. government and another $2 million by Mexico- has not prevented him from continuing to live as a free man.
Since 2009, El Chapo has been included in Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful People list. This year he ranked 67th out of 72. Along with billionaire Carlos Slim and President Enrique Peña Nieto, El Chapo is one of only three Mexicans on this year’s Powerful People list.
November 6, 2013
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