Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mexico's Customs enforcement and weapons trafficking

Las aduanas, coladeras para las armas
Jesusa Cervantes
revista Proceso #1793

A little over a year ago, PRD Federal Deputy Hector Hugo Hernandez Rodriguez (Tlalpan/DF) proposed the formation of a special commission to review Mexico’s Customs operations after hearing Defense Ministry officials discuss the situation of violence in the country and hearing that those who "traffic in drugs are the same as those who traffic in weapons.”

The special commission of Federal Deputies was formed and began its work. The plan was to visit all the 49 formal Customs ports of entry in the country, see how they work and propose appropriate changes and improvements to their operations.

However, the "pressures" received by the commission during its year of work forced the legislators to halt their investigation and only propose general reforms to comply with customs law. No progress was made.

“Too many toes were stepped on” said the chairman of the commission, “there was a coordinated effort and pressure to block our work.”

The problem is that illegal merchandise, drugs and the weapons that are responsible for the growing violence in Mexico are flowing through Customs facilities. Another member of the commission put it this way: "Customs is a pig’s sty.”

In an interview with the weekly Proceso newsmagazine, Hernández Rodríguez, the chairman of the special commission, states that sudden unannounced visits and reviews of Customs operations "caused a lot of pain…..and disrupted many interests", and reveals that the customs authorities are tightly managed and created conditions in perfect coordination to prevent the lawmakers from doing their job.

Hernandez Rodriguez avoided describing in detail what was discovered at the Customs facilities, but in several of the commission’s documents reviewed by Proceso’s staff it is calculated that weapons are illegally entering the country at a rate of one per minute, which, according to the analysis of the legislators, is a major cause of "insecurity and criminality."

video of drug cartel weapons cache seized in Reynosa, 2008


The special commission was proposed in October 2009 and began work in February 2010. According to the analysis presented this month by the chairman of the committee:

"In the Customs sector there are problems that must be urgently assessed and addressed in order to avoid a situation of greater vulnerability for the economy and the health of the republic. I specifically refer to the uninhibited movement of illegal merchandise, weapons, drugs and other banned substances that each year enter the country through the checkpoints, ports and airports without sufficient control by customs authorities.”

"It is also an issue of national security and public safety that the traffic and marketing of illegal weapons leads to increased insecurity, crime and drug addiction. Every minute it is estimated that one gun enters our country illegally. According to the Attorney General's Office (PGR), the arms trade is the second most important issue affecting our national security. It is a problem that fuels the violence of organized crime. "

In the documents the commission states that corruption in the 49 Customs facilities in Mexico has increased and recognized that bribes and threats from organized crime are directed at Customs agents.

According to the documents, in 2006 and 2007 customs seized only 2% of illegal weapons entering the country, a total of 900, while from 2006 to 2008, in raids and clashes, authorities seized 38,404 illegal weapons.

Real problems

Besides establishing that there is a "lack of an institutional plan”, the documents state that Customs operations have not been adequate for the country's needs during the globalization era and although not a complete failure, deficiencies in Customs enforcement in the last 20 years have lead to real problems for the country's economy and national security.

"The illegal trafficking of goods, weapons and illicit substances has revealed the porosity and permissiveness in Customs facilities, which has led to the deterioration of national security.”

“Criminal organizations take advantage of this situation, violating the rule of law thru bribery and concealment to traffic in humans, drugs, weapons, toxic waste and protected species, and to launder money.”

The documents state that even large companies and corporations, including multinationals, smuggle merchandise, creating informal distribution channels for the purpose of avoiding taxes.

According to the documents, "58% of the market of garments for clothing is supplied thru illegal channels."

The documents stress that the profits from these crimes are "outrageous" and "can only be explained by corruption, the incompetence of Customs staff and the lack of technological equipment."

The Routes

Based on reports obtained from the PGR and CESOP, a research arm of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the national legislature equivalent to the House of Representatives in the U.S.), the special commission established that the U.S. is the source of between 40 to 60 percent of illicit firearms and that there are four weapons smuggling corridors in the country.

The CESOP text states: "In conjunction with the market for drugs the weapons industry has also proliferated. In the U.S. there are 40 major manufacturers and importers of firearms which sell about 3 million guns (annually). This activity represents sales of more than 30 billion dollars a year for the U.S. economy.”

According to the PGR there are more than 100,000 federal firearms licensees on the southern border of the United States who sell weapons at established retail businesses or through gun shows.

"This accounts for the fact that most of the weapons used by criminal organizations in Mexico (40 to 60 percent) comes from the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 40 percent of the weapons introduced into Mexico fall into the hands of drug traffickers."

The PGR reports and figures on which the commission based their findings were made in 2008 and 2009, during the term of Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora. Since the ascension to the post of Attorney General of Arturo Chávez Chávez in September 2009, no further reports of weapons smuggling into Mexico have been released.

These documents clarify that the primary smuggling mechanism is through the introduction of small quantities in a somewhat steady stream, in what is called "Operacion Hormiga” (an operation that resembles a stream of ants operating in single file and each carrying a small amount of material). They also highlight four transshipment corridors: Pacific, Central, Gulf and South.

Among the main points of entry for the Pacific route are Tijuana, Mexicali, San Luis Rio Colorado and Nogales. From these crossing points the weapons flow to Hermosillo, Culiacán, Tepic, Guadalajara, Morelia, Chilpancingo and Oaxaca.

Another point of entry is Ciudad Juarez. From Juarez the firearms follow the corridor to Chihuahua, Durango, Guadalajara, Morelia, Chilpancingo and Oaxaca.

The third route, the Gulf, utilizes the numerous ports of entry in the border states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. From here the weapons flow to Monterrey, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Tuxtla Gutierrez.

The fourth route, the South, is centered at Balancan, Tabasco, where the weapons then proceed to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Tapachula, Ciudad Hidalgo and Oaxaca.

The CESOP document quotes Baja California Senator Fernando Castro (PRI) who states, "every day 2,000 potent caliber weapons enter Mexico," adding that this implies an annual aggregate of 730,000 weapons, "which goes far beyond the ability of Mexican authorities to record, secure and detain.”

The document notes that during his election campaign, U.S. president Barack Obama pledged to "make a serious effort to disrupt arms trafficking and money laundering since the U.S. provides the Mexican cartels with weapons and funds."

The special commission mentions in January 2008, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) launched project Gunrunner, in which 35 new agents and 15 field researchers were assigned along the border with Mexico. Operation Fast and Furious, which led to the illegal entry of nearly 2,000 U.S. arms to Mexico, was part of this project.

PGR reports used by the special commission document how the weapons traffickers use “straw purchasers”, legal residents and citizens with the ability to purchase firearms legally, to obtain the weapons for “brokers” in exchange for money."

"So these arms traffickers then introduce the weapons into Mexico thru the 19 formal border crossings operated by Customs as well as through the countless informal crossing points that are scattered along the 3,152 kilometer long common border.

“For example that there are four formal Customs operated ports of entry in Chihuahua and 300 informal gaps approachable by dirt roads where the border can be crossed from Ojinaga to Juarez."

And while the PGR maintains that the weapons are primarily smuggled hidden in automobiles, the special commission confirmed that Customs have never detected anything, even though they have equipment to measure and weigh vehicles when crossing the border to detect hidden contraband.

PGR documents also highlight the importance of the ATF in the detection of trafficking weapons to Mexican drug cartels and gives as an example the arrest in 2008 of Victor Varela, who said "was involved in supplying weapons to the Carrillo Fuentes criminal organization in Ciudad Juarez."

The documents clarify that "organizations engaged in drug smuggling do not directly control firearms smuggling; there is a distribution network where they place orders with the brokers who manage the people (straw purchasers) who buy guns." In the border area between Mexico and the U.S. there are at least 12,000 armories.

illict weapons cache seized in the southern state of Chiapas

Something for everyone

The cost of weapons on the black market range $800 to $ 2,000. Most are of American origin and the most widely used brands are Colt, Marlin, Bushmaster, Beretta, Raven, Remington, Smith & Wesson, Browning, Mossberg and Jennings. Glocks comes from Austria. Other brands include Romarm Cugir from Romania and Norinco from China

Most firearms have been confiscated in Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California and Chihuahua, while most grenades have been confiscated in Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Chiapas, Sinaloa and Nuevo Leon.

According to the PGR reports, The Gulf cartel and Los Zetas are the most violent organizations and possess the most lethal weapons.

"Their more notable weapons include M72 and AT-4 light anti-tank weapons, RPG-7 rocket launchers, 37 mm caliber MGL grenade launchers. 37 and 40 mm grenade launcher attachments, grenades, .50 caliber Barrett rifles and newer generation weapons such as the Belgian FN Herstal 5.7x28 mm “cop killer” pistols and submachine guns that can pierce Kevlar or CRISTAT body armour.”

“The Arellano Felix and Sinaloa cartels are more conventionally armed and use some Barrett rifles, rocket launchers and FN Herstal 5.7 submachine guns to a lesser extent.”

A total mess

According to a recent special report on the current state of the drug war undertaken by the Ministry of Defense (Proceso issue #1791) one of the necessary steps in fighting organized crime was the modernization of Mexico’s 49 Customs facilities. That was the objective of the special commission, but the pressure it received left it drifting increasingly away from that goal.

Hernández Rodríguez, the special commission chairman, recalled that at the start of their on site reviews deficiencies such as missing cameras and gamma ray scanners were missing in some facilities. Journeys were made to 18 of the 49 Customs facilities. "We were doing an on site diagnosis but Customs authorities created conditions that blocked our work”

The chairman revealed that irregularities were detected and "some things" were reported but he refused to provide details, claiming that the information was confidential. “We were stepping on so many toes…..talking about problems at Customs is more complicated than you may think.”

On the southern border with Guatemala, in the border crossings of Talisman and Ciudad Hidalgo, the smuggling of contraband and humans is done within view of Customs officials, “this happens daily and no one keeps order.”

Another example from the commission’s document if the experience of commission member, and Federal Deputy, Hector Pedroza Jimenez during an attempted on-site inspection of Customs facilities at the Mexico City airport, “we were not allowed to enter ... What are they hiding that we were not allowed inside? They wanted to obstruct our work because Customs is totally corrupted and a mess "

Hernández Rodríguez argues that weapons trafficking has plunged the country into an unsustainable and intolerable violence: "Weapons and drugs are smuggled through Customs and there is a network of complicity at all levels."

“The members of the commission have gone out to the field, the matter is that there is corruption at all levels, in all sectors ... it is very difficult."

“The problem of the weapons is a serious issue because they enter everywhere from Ciudad Juarez to Talisman, Chiapas, and these guns, used by the criminals, are generating the violence we are living.”



  1. 56%? Closer to 99%...

  2. how sad... and this is just a portion... and i can guarantee that 95% of these weopons,(if not ALL) were originated from that ATF strategy of allowing them to be smuggled into mexican cartel hands in order to capture a bigger criminal..

    as one of the captains of the ATF said in a recent article, "in order to make an omlette, you have to break some eggs..." seriously, is this where my american tax paying money is going to? it pays some heartless moron in the ATF to think of life as an "egg".. sometimes i cant even seperate a cartel from an ATF agent.. bunch of SOB's

  3. Seriously the adwan or customs is the worst agency in mexico. As one who crosses the boarder with legal goods they always have their hand out. The revamp the personnel 3 years ago and still the same shit. I go to the boarder pay the amount. get a receipt and at the next check show the receipt and the want it all out again or give me a $ 20 . They stink !!!!

  4. What is wrong with Proceso? Now they can't blame those nasty gringos for everything. It amazes me when I read the anti-US vitriole spewed out on Mexican blogs. From BDN to Milenio everything is always the US fault because the US wants to take over Mexico like Iraq and Afghanistan. Corruption and impunity is so deeply imbedded that Mexicans don't see it.
    "Those greedy gringos...It's all part of the gringo's master plan to take over Mexico... Well, the US has always been our enemy..." and on and on.

    And since the Revolution there have been the politicians who wrap themselves in the Mexican flag blame whatever they need to blame at the moment on the US.

    And don't forget the US stole half of Mexico in 1848. Yeah the US took advantage of turmoil in Mexico (like now) and paid millions of dollars that went into some corrupt politician's pocket.

    Mexico has been profoundly corrupt forever.

  5. 8:05 is interesting that you know absolutely nothing about the facts or the numbers and yet you can "guarantee" that 95% or more of the weapons came from a very small isolated program that occurred at one divisional ATF office.

    Yes, just like in any police action, sometimes you perform a "sting" operation to bring down a bigger fish. The issue here was 1) the politics and 2) the number of guns they were letting through (estimated to be a few hundred). With over 1300 guns a day making it in, it would be impossible for ATF to let in that many.

    Don't forget, it is not the US' responsibility to prevent things from leaving the country. It is the Mexico customs that is ultimately letting all the guns in.

    Your post shows your ignorance and your anti-American bias by trying to pin the MEXICAN problems on the US.

  6. @March 19, 2011 12:43 PM
    No one is blaming anyone. Did you see the facts or you were so blind that you "don't see it." Stop this victimization BS and take some responsibility. Both governments are at fault period!!

  7. I don't know why were talking about Mexico. Has anyone heard the news today..were going to war with Libya we just attacked today, another costly war for nothing!! Holy shit!!

  8. Both sides of Customs is in on the action,
    but we Expect the Mexican side to be corrupt because it is, But the U.S. side is just as corrupt, only they arent as blatand about it, but behind closed doors they take their Mordidas just the same.

  9. Its up to the Mexican Customs to stop the flow of guns from the US and it would help if they also manned their side of the border and stop all those illegals from coming to the USA. But its a lot easier to just blame the Americans for everything.

  10. @March 19, 2011 1:50 PM
    @March 19, 2011 5:03 PM

    Do you realized how stupid both you sound?

    "Don't forget, it is not the US' responsibility to prevent things from leaving the country."

    "Its up to the Mexican Customs to stop the flow of guns from the US and it would help if they also manned their side of the border and stop all those illegals from coming to the USA."
    -By the way your opinion is even more stupid because you contradict yourself!!!

    Well shit with that attitude I wounder why Colombia and Mexico are even fighting the war on Drugs. At the end of the day, Drugs are trying to make there way into the U.S. With stupid statements like those above, these countries can easily say:

    "Don't forget, it is not Mexico's and Colombia's responsibility to prevent things from leaving the country."


    "Its up to the U.S. Customs to stop the flow of drugs from the Mexico and it would help if they also manned their side of the border and stop all those guns from coming to Mexico."

    Do you see how stupid your statements sounds?? Ignorant people theses days!!

  11. @ 12:11

    Just a question or two - when you enter Mexico do you get searched or do you get a hand held out? When you return to the US has Customs ever hinted at a bribe? If you were carrying gun(s) or drugs did they find them?

    I'm not saying there is not blame for both sides. I am saying that thousands of guns get into Mexico because Mexican Customs NEVER searches. I have crossed that border on foot, by car, by airplane and by bus in both directions 50+ times. TJ, Mexicali, Juarez, Laredo, Falcon Dam, D.F.. Mexican Aduana doesn't look. If you make it clear you won't pay, they might make you remove everything from the car, look at it for 4 seconds and make you put it back. US Laredo strip searched me 2x at Laredo because they could see I/we were students

  12. @March 19, 2011 7:15 PM

    I'm not 12:11, but yeah I have gotten stop 4-5 times, mainly Juarez, Ojinaga ports of entry and I have gotten searched by la aduana and no one has ever hinted a bribe at me. Maybe I'm lucky or haven't gotten a bad customs agent but I haven't had your experience with the whole strip search haha.

    And I think its pretty stupid trying to get someone to self-incriminate themselves haha...."If you were carrying gun(s) or drugs did they find them?" Now that is some funny shit haha

  13. that border is a two way street. all the guns and money going south and all the drugs coming north. corrupt officers and officials on both sides.

  14. Guns My Ass, Customs in Mexico is a bigger Mess than local cops. Until you have tried to cross equipment,machinery,tools should not speak. Corrupt,stupid,different rules on different days,you never know what they will sieze on to get the Mordida. Just think what a joy it could be if there were consistent sencible rules that were actually USED!!

  15. The ATF, Obama, Holder, Napolitino, and Holder are liars. The facts are not present in this distorted article. The author lies for the crumbs the politicos drop his way. The guns come from South America and foreign countries. Most are east bloc made weapons.


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