Global News Journal

Arizona marijuana seizures hit all-time high

August 7, 2009

Large marijuana seizures are frequent in the sweltering Arizona deserts that straddle the superhighway for people smuggling from Mexico — although this year they are breaking all records. Last month the Tucson sector of the U.S. Border Patrol announced that agents had seized more than 500 tons of marijuana smuggled up from Mexico since October, a leap of about 40 percent over the same period last year.Border Patrol spokesman Mike Scioli says seizures of marijuana – which is grown in Mexico by the country’s powerful drug cartels, and forms the backbone of their profits — have become more frequent as security along the border tightens, with more agents and infrastructure, including miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing.“Smugglers used to just drive vehicles over the border, now that the fence is in place, that’s prohibited them from doing that,” Scioli said of the barriers, part of 670 miles (1,080 kms) of fencing under construction border wide that block or snag trucks crossing north. “They’ve had to change and do things differently.”Scioli said agents are seizing more marijuana walked north over the searing deserts by smugglers carrying it in backpacks, as well as bundles attached to ultralight aircraft and flown below radar surveillance — which have appeared in recent months in Arizona.Federal border police have also found at least 16 clandestine drug tunnels punched beneath the border city of Nogales, Arizona, since October, which investigators say were used by affiliates of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel in a bid to avoid beefed up security at the ports of entry.The spike in seizures comes as both U.S. and Mexican authorities battle Mexico’s powerful cartels, which have killed more than 13,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006.President Barack Obama will fly to the western Mexican city of Guadalajara for his first North American leaders’ summit with Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday, at which the current state of the war to crush the traffickers will be high on the agenda. Meanwhile, U.S. federal police say stepped up enforcement is hurting the drug gangs.“They are finding more resistance from both Mexican and U.S. law enforcement,” said Ramona Sanchez, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Phoenix division. “Nowadays the stakes are too high, nowadays they cannot afford to lose a load” of narcotics.But while authorities make security gains, the multi-ton quantities of marijuana seized by border police in Arizona are but a tiny fraction of the total grown by Mexican cartels and smuggled north to meet the demands of an estimated 25 million Americans who smoke the drug.A recent drug threat assessment published by the U.S. government’s National Drug Intelligence Center pegged Mexican marijuana production at a massive 15,500 tons in 2007, the most recent year on record.Furthermore, it noted that the powerful cartels have moved much of their drug-farming operations to remote areas of the Western Sierra Madre Mountains, away from the Pacific coast states of Guerrero, Michoacan, and Nayarit, which had been the heart of eradication programs.The report also highlighted the resilient cartels’ savvy in relocating production, which also sought ”to reduce transportation costs to the southwest border and gain more direct access to drug markets in the United States.”For more Reuters coverage of the drug war click here.(Photos: Reuters and U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Israel’s West Bank barrier

July 7, 2008

west-bank-barrier.jpg Four years ago this week, on July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, known as the World Court, ruled in an advisory opinion that the wall and fence barrier which Israel was building in the West Bank was illegal under international law and that Palestinians affected by it should be compensated. Israel responded  by dismissing the decision as politically motivated and defended the barrier, which it calls the “security fence”, as an effective response to “Palestinian terrorism”. Israel says the barrier, whose projected route of fences and walls snakes through the West Bank for over 700 km, has saved Israeli lives by preventing a continuation of attacks, notably suicide bombings.