Surf’s Up: Mexican Drug Cartels Shift to California Coast
Move to shipping drugs by sea increasing in Pacific—and the Caribbean
The United States is far and away the world’s largest consumer of illicit drugs. If you were a drug cartel billionaire, would you let a border build-up stop you?
Of course not. Despite a build-up of agents, fences and surveillance towers along the land border between Mexico and the States, you can always adjust and haul your ill-gotten wares along the coast.
That’s exactly what the cartels are doing.
According to online Spanish-language news site Animal Politico, the U.S. Border Patrol have seen a 73 percent increase in the amount of drugs moving along the Pacific coast since 2011—and a drop in land-based trafficking by large margins.
During the same period as the surge in the Pacific, there was a 35 percent decrease in marijuana trafficking and a 66 percent drop in highly profitable cocaine trafficking, but there’s no clarification whether this is just for the Baja California region or across the border as a whole.
The cartels have also expanded the lengths they’re willing to travel. Four years ago, jet-skiing, fast-boating and even surf-boarding drug traffickers embarked from Tijuana and landed in San Diego to as far north as Oceanside.
That’s now expanded as far north as Monterey—south of the San Francisco Bay Area—and traffickers are even embarking hundreds of miles to the south in Baja California Sur.
The Sinaloa Cartel is particularly strong in Mexico’s northwestern states.
Earlier in December, the Gulf of California resort town of Puerto Peñasco was the scene of a four-hour shootout that saw Mexican army Black Hawk helicopters fire on a cartel convoy, killing Sinaloa Cartel lieutenant Gonzalo Inzunza.
Now, none of this is particularly surprising. The U.S. has more than doubled the number of Border Patrol agents along the southwest to 18,546 in 2012 (from fewer than 9,000 in 2000) and has added hundreds of miles of new fencing.
The Arizona-Sonora border has also been at the nexus of millions of dollars worth of new surveillance equipment under the Arizona Secure Border Initiative—the remains of a much larger, junked program known as SBInet. But these are largely land-based assets.
The trend is being replicated in the Caribbean, which has seen a similar surge in cartel activity. The amount of cocaine moved through the Caribbean this year—14 percent of the total entering the U.S. annually—doubled from last year. “It’s acute when you consider that the overall flow [into the US] is down,” DEA special agent Vito Guarino told the Financial Times.
One cause for the decline in trafficking, it stands to reason, is a relative decline in demand as markets grow in Brazil and Europe. Or the cartels could be simply adjusting.
“This jump in drug smuggling along the Pacific coast is likely another, but much less reported, example of the so-call ‘balloon effect’—whereby cutting production or a supply line in one location merely leads to production or trafficking to spring up in another,” noted Charles Parkinson of Insight Crime, a Latin America crime monitoring group.
If that’s the case, then it’s difficult to see how effective more enforcement will be—it could just shift back as the eyes of U.S. law enforcement agencies start placing more attention on the seas.