Authorities in Mexico and the United States have yet to identify who is behind the construction of a recently dismantled narco-tunnel near the US-Mexico border. But the location and high sophistication of the tunnel suggests the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible, providing further evidence of their status as one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the region.
Agents from the US Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have shut down an incomplete cross-border tunnel near the city of Jacumba in the state of California less than a mile north of the US-Mexico border, US Customs and Border Protection announced October 9.
Mexican authorities originally discovered the 191-meter-long subterranean tunnel on September 19 at a house in the small town of Ejido Jacume, which sits just about two miles south of the US-Mexico border in Baja California state, after being tipped off by a citizen complaint, Zeta reported.
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The underground tunnel was highly innovative. It contained solar panels designed to run electrical, lighting and ventilation systems, in addition to having two sump pumps to drain the tunnel of any water that gathered inside. A rail system that stretched the entire length of the tunnel was also found inside.
(Video courtesy of US Customs and Border Patrol)
US Customs and Border Patrol told InSight Crime in an email that the agency could not speculate on suspects potentially linked to the narco-tunnel. Authorities in Mexico have not yet identified any suspects possibly linked to the tunnel either.
Tunnels have long been one of the more clever ways that organized crime groups in Mexico traffic drugs across the US-Mexico border. In April 2016, authorities discovered one of the longest narco-tunnels built between California and Mexico. It stretched some 800 meters and was equipped with an elevator.
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Organized crime groups have long shown their advanced engineering skills through the narco-tunnels they have used to traffic drugs into the United States. But the highly innovative nature and location of the recently dismantled tunnel suggests that the Sinaloa Cartel might be responsible for it.
“The Sinaloa Cartel is the principal builder of sophisticated tunnels,” Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former Chief of International Operations, told InSight Crime.
Indeed, former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo” -- who’s been called the “master of tunnels” -- allegedly sent a team of tunnel engineers to Germany to receive specialized training needed to build the underground tunnel that El Chapo would later use to escape from a maximum security prison for the second time in 2015.
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Depending on the length, Vigil said that these highly sophisticated underground tunnels can cost between $1 million and $2 million. Traffickers can typically pay off these high costs after trafficking one single shipment of methamphetamine or cocaine, according to Vigil.
"The [narco-tunnels] are well worth their weight in gold,” Vigil added.
The Sinaloa Cartel certainly has the product needed to create such earnings. In August of this year, authorities in Mexico seized some 50 metric tons of methamphetamine -- likely the largest such seizure in Mexico's history -- allegedly linked to the criminal group.