Tijuana Tunnels – Major Route for Drug Trafficking from Mexico to the US

Chloe Symons

Correspondent (North America) 


This week the US authorities uncovered what is being called a ‘super-tunnel’ that connects Tijuana, Mexico to the nearby San Diego, Southern California, that has been built and used for the sole purpose of trafficking drugs across the border.

The discovery was made by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which is made up of members of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and was the result of weeks of surveillance work thanks to the help of a tip off to the authorities in the US.

Tijuana has fast become a popular border crossing for drug trafficking into America and discoveries are being made in increasingly large and perhaps worrying numbers. Since 2008, 75 tunnels have been found running from Tijuana into San Diego, with 8 of them being labelled as major, however this most recent one is significant in its size and structure.

This ‘super-tunnel’ was built to link two warehouses, one in Tijuana and one in San Diego’s Otay Mesa Industrial Estate, and is said to have had lighting, ventilation and an electric rail system that the drugs were smuggled along.

Derek Benner of the US Immigration and Customs described the tunnel, stating, “This complex underground passageway zig zags for about a third of a mile under the border at a depth of approximately 35ft on average.”  Laura Duffy, a US Attorney further added to the description of the tunnel, describing it as ‘sophisticated’ and suggesting that it had probably been built by engineers and architects, stating that the tunnel is approximately four feet in height and three feet in width. Duffy furthered her discussion of the tunnel saying “They are hi-tech, they include railways, push carts, ventilation systems and hydraulically controlled steel doors.”

During the raid of the tunnel earlier this week, the authorities discovered 8.5 tonnes of marijuana and 327lbs of cocaine, with an added value of up to $12million. The US authorities are keen to show the drug cartels, through the discovering and shutting down of this tunnel that they are serious about cracking down on the Mexican cartels efforts to smuggle their drugs into America, particularly across this border crossing into California, that is becoming more and more frequently used. It is argued that tunnels are being dug across to the San Diego border specifically due to the clay-like soil in the area of the state as it makes it easy to dig, meaning the job is somewhat easier for the cartels.

Bill Sherman from the Drugs Enforcement Administration spoke of the complexity and scale of this particular tunnel, telling the media “They’ve worked very hard over a year, maybe two years to build a tunnel of this sophistication. It’s taken hundreds of man hours and millions of dollars to complete.”

The discovery of this tunnel is being compared to another tunnel that the US forces uncovered in 2011, which happens to have been only a block away from the one most recently found. In November 2011, the US authorities claim to have had one of their biggest seizures of drugs in history as the result of the storming of a tunnel, that stretched 1,800ft across the border from Tijuana to San Diego and contained more than 26 tonnes of marijuana on the US side, with approximately 8 tonnes waiting on the Mexican end of the tunnel to be moved across the border.

This most recent tunnel is said to have been a part of the drug trafficking operation run by the Mexican Cartel Sinaloa, which has quickly become one of the most notorious Mexican Cartels, known for its trafficking of drugs across the borders. The leader of Sinaloa is Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, who quickly climbed his way to the top of the drug smuggling business in Mexico, which has made him a small fortune, with estimates of his personal wealth at no less than $1billion.

The Mexican and US authorities are hot on the trail of Guzman and his drug empire, with the US Treasury Department naming him as ‘the most influential trafficker in the world’. As a direct result of the tunnel seizure this week 3 individuals were been arrested at the scene and remain detained, although US agencies are saying the individuals are lower down the cartels chain, perhaps tunnel workers rather than actual gangsters, they are keen to show a united and confident front to America and the Mexican drug lords, that if the tunnels are built, they will be found, and the smuggling will be stopped.

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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Chloe Symons

Chloe Symons is currently in her 3rd year at Cardiff university studying journalism. One of her main interests is current affairs, as she thinks it is important to be aware of what is happening around the world. After she finishes her degree she hopes to explore many different aspects of journalism and media.

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