Feature Articles

August 2015
Narcotic Trafficking Tunnels

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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     Joaquin Guzman Loera, better known as the infamous, slippery and fearsome Mexican drug lord, has done it again. There is apparently not a lockup that can hold the Notorious One, who has at his command the resources and clout to outwit the Mexican authorities at every turn.

     It was on July 11th, at 8:52 p.m., that the man known as El Chapo was in his prison cell. Surveillance footage in Altiplano, Mexico�s super-max prison, saw him present and accounted for and then nothing. Good old El Chapo in the wink of an eye dropped into a hole, down a ladder into a 5000-foot tunnel under the (probably bought off) noses of the prison guards. (Do you hear digging? At this hour? Probably the night shift.)

     One thing is certain in the drug-infested, corrupt Mexico, from top to bottom: the drug cartels are in command. This was no ordinary fly-by-night dig. The probable overseer was a well-known contractor, the cost an easy million dollars, not counting the payoffs. The tunnel had florescent lighting, piped in outside air, and a railcar track that moved dirt and diggers. Very comfy. The only thing lacking was an espresso bar.

     The tunnel surfaced under a cinder-block house in an open field. El Chapo had hopped on a railed vehicle, traversed the tunnel, enjoyed the rush of impending freedom, came up and disappeared. Another brilliant maneuver that should have shocked no one because it had been done previously. That time when he dove into a network of passageways underneath seven houses.

     Overtime the drug cartels became efficient in the construction of the narcotunel, the take term used for underground routes under the international border to facilitate (one might say insure) a smooth flow of narcotics into the American market. As a result the trickle became a flood. Tunnels are not novel. Since 1988, the upscale version evolved as a reaction to the increased surveillance along the border by the San Diego Task Force, founded in 2003.

     The first super tunnel originated at a Sinaloa-owned building in the Mexican border town of Aqua Prieta and surfaced 300 feet at a warehouse in

     Douglas, USA. Access on the Mexican side was cleverly concealed. One had to turn on an outdoor spigot, which started a hydraulic device that then lifted a billiard table.

     Each innovation by the drug bandits has been met with a sharp reply by the Americans. As one example, the Task Force used ground-penetrating radar devices. Their effectiveness became challenged by the diggers constructing at deeper levels. Efforts at curtailing the trafficking is too big a problem for the Mexicans, too much profit to be made, too much corruption, and for the Americans, too much of a craving for the product.

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