MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s largest-ever seizure of marijuana packaged for sale is even bigger than the original estimate of 105 tons and probably belonged to the country’s most powerful drug-trafficking cartel, authorities said Tuesday.
The Sinaloa cartel run by Mexico’s most wanted fugitive, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is now moving drugs through the Tijuana corridor “unimpeded,” said a U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico. This is a possible reason why violence has dropped in the city across the border from San Diego since a bloody peak in 2008.
President Felipe Calderon recently praised the city’s new calm as a success story in Mexico’s drug war.
Many have speculated the drop in Tijuana’s violence just means the Sinaloa cartel has cut a deal with remnants of the Arrellano Felix gang, which once controlled the city’s lucrative land and sea routes leading into California but has suffered major blows and arrests of its leaders.
Calderon dismissed the idea of an arrangement in a recent interview with The Associated Press, saying the new calm came from government cooperation and the arrests of key cartel leaders.
“The truth is that in the last two years, the government has made important hits on the criminal structures,” he told the AP.
But the U.S. official said it was a possibility.
“There could be a pact. We don’t know for certain if there is one, what that pact would be. But Sinaloa has been able to operate there unimpeded by other cartels,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Mexican soldiers and police grabbed the U.S.-bound marijuana in pre-dawn raids Monday in three neighborhoods when 11 people were arrested after a shootout led authorities to the drugs.
Army officials first said the drugs weighed 105 tons and had an estimated street value of 4.2 billion pesos, about $340 million. But they said the haul was even bigger Tuesday, so far counting 15,000 packages – 5,000 more than first announced.
Calderon’s security spokesman, Alejandro Poire, agreed the drugs likely belonged to Sinaloa and called it an historic seizure.
“This is an important milestone that demonstrates the ability of the Mexican state when security forces in three levels of government coordinate and take responsibility around a common goal,” he said.
But the bust indicates what U.S. Department of Justice figures already show – that marijuana cultivation is up in Mexico since 2005, more than doubling to 21.5 million metric tons in 2008.