Pubdate: Sat, 23 Nov 2002
Source: North County Times (CA)
Contact:  2002 North County Times
Author: Seth Hettena, Associated Press 


SAN DIEGO -(AP)- The amount of drugs seized at five California border
crossings fell for the first time in four years, reflecting a post-Sept. 11
security crackdown and stepped-up enforcement in Colombia and Mexico,
authorities said Friday. 

U.S. Customs Service inspectors seized 158 tons of heroin, cocaine,
marijuana and methamphetamine over the past 12 months. A year ago, the total
was more than 244 tons. 

While the amount of drugs seized at border crossings represents only a
fraction of the illegal narcotics entering the country from Mexico, it
serves as an indicator of the success of U.S. interdiction efforts,
according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Still, federal authorities were reluctant to pat themselves on the back,
noting that seizures rose in Texas and New Mexico, which suggests smugglers
may be looking east. Along the entire 1,962-mile U.S.-Mexico border, drug
seizures fell to 625 tons in fiscal year 2002 from 682 tons last year. 

"The whole phenomenon is like a balloon: You squeeze it in one area and it
balloons out in another," said Vince Bond, a spokesman for the Customs
Service in San Diego. 

In the 12 months ending Sept. 30, Customs inspectors in California seized
150 tons of marijuana, 8 1/2 tons of cocaine, a half-ton of methamphetamine
and 284 pounds of heroin. 

A number of factors could be responsible for the drop in California,
including the war on terrorism. Tighter security and more vehicle searches
and identification checks -- aimed primarily at preventing future terrorist
attacks -- have made smuggling more risky and less profitable, Bond said. 

"An inspector looks for an anomaly in the many, many cars and people who
cross the border," Bond said. "They know something's not right, and that
warrants a more thorough evaluation. It may be drugs. It may be terrorism." 

In Mexico, authorities scored a major victory with the arrest and death this
year of the leaders of the Tijuana-based Arrellano-Felix cartel, which has
employed legions of couriers to carry cocaine and marijuana across the

President Vicente Fox has pledged to launch an all-out war on the drug
trade, saying his administration would continue nabbing drug lords but also
take on drug consumption and production in Mexico. 

In February, police officers in the resort city of Mazatlan gunned down
Ramon Arellano Felix. A month later federal authorities captured his brother
Benjamin, the gang's operations chief. 

Asa Hutchinson, the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who
visited the San Diego area Thursday, said his agents have noted a drop in
the purity of cocaine in the last year by 9 percent, suggesting a weakening
in supply. 

Hutchinson said the drop in purity was attributable, in part, to U.S.
efforts in Colombia, which produces 90 percent of the world's cocaine. But
much of the U.S. supply of cocaine comes through Mexico, and tougher
enforcement has made trafficking more risky and expensive. 

"The risk has gone up," Hutchinson said. "We have hit the supply and I think
we're seeing the impact."
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