What is fundamental to all drug traffickers from Mexico is to get drugs moving onto a U.S. highway and into a metropolitan city for distribution. Interstate 35 runs north from Laredo to San Antonio, Texas, a route that is strategic to the legitimate and illegitimate economy. Once across the border the value of drugs climbs as they are moved north. A kilo of uncut cocaine in the U.S. could start at $18,500 a couple of hundred miles from the border but might increase in value to $32,000 further north. Prices vary depending on the amount purchased, the quality and the location.
When I visited a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on I-35, one of the mandatory stops for all northbound vehicles, Border Patrol Agents had just found a white passenger van decorated with Christian symbols, with a small empty flatbed trailer and hollowed out floorboards, filled with 116.6 lbs of marijuana, with an estimated street value of $93,280. By the time I arrive, the driver had already been taken away.
An agent had thought the trailer looked suspicious, a specialized dog sniffed out contraband, holes were drilled into the floorboards and out sprung the marijuana. One by one the floorboards were split open and neatly wrapped gleaming plastic packages of drugs fell to the inspection area floor.
I drive down to the U.S. port of entry where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers notice that the morning border traffic from Mexico is light and unusually late. Reports are that cartel-related violence in Laredo’s sister city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has interrupted rush hour. No Mexicans want to be identified when we talk. One man says every business and part of the government are influenced by the Zetas, a violent organized crime group. Another man at the border says that the Zetas send Mexicans across the border to buy alcohol in the U.S. to bring back as part of a monopoly the Zetas control on alcohol sales in the region.
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