August 16, 2005

Calif. drug busts soar despite Mexico crackdown

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican drug cartels are
sending ever greater quantities of narcotics through border
crossings in southern California, despite a Mexican government
crackdown and a bloody feud between rival drug gangs.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection sources said late on
Monday that seizures of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and
amphetamines at five border crossings in the state jumped
nearly 50 percent to 140,384 pounds (63,677 kg) in the nine
months to June over the same period a year earlier.

The surge comes despite a clampdown on drug gangs by the
Mexican government, which has sent hundreds of troops and
federal police officers to round up traffickers in the border
region since January in an operation dubbed "Safe Mexico."

"For some reason the San Diego-Tijuana region is being
targeted by the drug traffickers, and we're seeing a big surge
in drug seizures," said Adele Fasano, the U.S. Bureau of
Customs and Border Protection field director for San Diego.

Law enforcement sources said the cartels haul drug
shipments of several tons to desert staging posts south of the
California border, where they are broken down into smaller
loads to hurl at busy border posts in a technique known as

Customs agents working at the San Ysidro port, the world's
busiest land crossing linking Tijuana and San Diego, said both
the number and average size of drug loads seized there have
increased in recent months.

Wily drug gangs are packing narcotics into gas tanks, door
panels and car tires, and have even targeted tourist charter
buses in a bid to ship larger loads of marijuana north in their
cavernous floor and roof spaces.

U.S. law enforcement sources declined to speculate on
reasons for the surge in trafficking through California, which
comes as Mexican government efforts to curb drug gangs focus on
Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Texas.

More than 110 people have been gunned down in Nuevo Laredo
this year as cartels from the western state of Sinaloa battle
the local Gulf cartel for control of a lucrative drug smuggling

Washington has issued repeated travel warnings about
Mexican border towns this year, and briefly closed its
consulate in Nuevo Laredo last month after rival cartels fought
a pitched battle in the city with bazookas and machine guns.