Mexico’s Contraband Seizures Point to Persistent Problem at Ports

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Data on seizures by customs officials at Mexico’s ports of entry over the last decade illustrates where organized crime prefers to smuggle goods into and out of the country, and the importance cartels place on controlling these points.

Statistics compiled by El Universal from the Tax Administration Service (SAT) — Mexico’s customs agency — show that, between 2005 and 2014, there were 18,326 seizures at the four customs offices of Ciudad Juarez (7,950), Nuevo Laredo (7,109), Manzanillo (2,778), and Lazaro Cardenas (489); a fifth entry point, Mexico City’s International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de Mexico – AICM), saw 3,654 drug and contraband seizures.

El Universal said the Sinaloa Cartel and Juarez Cartel sought to control Ciudad Juarez; the Zetas and Gulf Cartel the Nuevo Laredo border crossing; the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) and Knights Templar the Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo ports; and the CJNG the airport.

According to a former customs official interviewed by El Universal, the AICM is the “the crown jewel” for organized crime because “the most expensive merchandise comes through this port.” The article notes that since 2005, more than $7 million dollars has been confiscated at the AICM.

The former official added that customs workers across the country have become “the employees of organized crime,” with Mexican cartels seeking to control all ports of entry.

InSight Crime Analysis

It is not surprising that there are several border crossings and ports of entry that stand out from the rest as key points for Mexican organized crime to import and export contraband and other illicit merchandise — oftentimes with the complicity of government officials.

According to The World Economic Forum’s 2013-2014 rankings, Mexico ranks 76 out of 148 global economies for the efficiency of its customs procedures, with theft and corruption the principal challenges.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Contraband

What is surprising is how difficult it has been to slow the illegal trade through these ports. Mexico City’s International Airport, for instance, has long been used by organized crime to smuggle drugs. Yet as recently as July 2012, there was a shootout between security forces leading to the uncovering of a drug-smuggling ring run by corrupt police.

Drugs are not the only illicit goods being smuggled through customs offices. Mexico City’s airport (which El Universal reports only saw 135 confiscations of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana during the last decade) has also seen an increase in arms trafficking, and the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas is used to import precursor chemicals from China for drug production and to export illegally mined iron.

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