US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents recently seized 400 packages of methamphetamine worth $1.1 million at the Arizona-Mexico border—the largest in the history of the Nogales port of entry. Authorities are concerned this shipment was a signal from one of two large Mexican drug cartels that they are not fading from the drug smuggling scene any time soon.
According to Business Insider, on February 5, CBP agents stopped a tractor-trailer hauling bell peppers that was attempting to cross at the Mariposa Commercial Facility, then pulled the meth packages out of the trailer’s front wall and rear doors. The driver, Juan Rodolfo Lugo Urias, was turned over to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents.
While many smaller drug smuggling gangs operate in Mexico’s northern Sonora state near Nogales, the sheer size of the drug load is an indicator it was likely arranged by the dominant drug cartel in the region—the notorious Sinaloa Federation, formerly under the control of recently re-captured kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.” The Sinaloa cartel has been involved in border skirmishes in recent years with the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), which used to be a Federation ally but broke away in 2008. The BLO is a shadow of its former self, but still maintains a small operation in competition with the Sinaloa cartel south of Arizona.
The question now becomes, who was Lugo working for? Given the dominance of the Sinaloa cartel in the region, that is the most likely answer. Business Insider also reported in January 2016 about a similar drug concealment method used by the Federation in the past. Guzmán opened a cannery in Guadalajara and began producing thousands of cans stamped “Comadre Jalapeños,” stuffing them with cocaine, vacuum-sealing them, and shipping them to Mexican-owned grocery stores in California.
There’s a smaller chance that Lugo was working for the BLO, although Nogales was identified as an area of “significant or increasing presence” for the BLO by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. Regardless of the organization bringing the drug into Arizona, meth has become more prevalent at ports of entry along the entire southwest border. Journalist and author Ioan Grillo wrote in January 2015 that in fiscal year 2014, Border Patrol agents seized a record 3,771 pounds of meth at the border, more than double the 1,838 pounds it seized in 2011. Given the momentum of marijuana legalization measures in the US, meth production and trafficking from Mexico will likely continue to increase to cover any profit shortfalls.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.