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The Narco Tunnels of Nogales
August 13, 2012 6:13 AM   Subscribe

If everyone had kept quiet, it could have been the most valuable parking spot on earth. Convenient only to the careworn clothing stores clustered in the southern end of downtown Nogales, Ariz., it offered little to shoppers, and mile-long Union Pacific trains sometimes cut it off from much of the city for 20 minutes at a time. But the location was perfect: In the middle of the short stretch of East International Street, overshadowed by the blank walls of quiet commercial property, the space was less than 50 feet from the international border with Mexico.
posted by Chrysostom (25 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Narcs gonna narc, I guess.

Fascinating, and yet obvious.
posted by Mezentian at 6:15 AM on August 13, 2012


Link with pics.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:21 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


NYTimes: Smugglers Build An Underground World via BLDBLOG: Under the West
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:26 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A reliable index of the effectiveness of U.S. interdiction work... is provided by the price of narcotics on U.S. streets; when the authorities succeed in impeding the flow of drugs, the price goes up. ... In Nogales, Ariz., the wholesale price for marijuana is currently $400 a pound. “That’s never changed,” Coulson says, “in 30 years.”
posted by Egg Shen at 6:35 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


All these incredible, violent, costly setups, costing untold numbers of lives and a tremendous amount of money and time, spent protecting us from a plant that, up until 1937, grew freely along the side of the road.
posted by xingcat at 6:36 AM on August 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Buy local.
posted by helicomatic at 6:42 AM on August 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


The two Subtopia links mentioned by BLDGBLOG are worth reading.

On Border Tunnel Infill
For the larger passages, concrete plugs, Marosi tells us, usually close off the tunnels where crossers slip under the border at main entrance and exit points – still the areas in between remain largely intact. However, smugglers have used this concrete as re-purposed material for fortifying their own branch-off tunnels, and even just as markers of directions to dig away from. The tunnelers' continued success has forced U.S. authorities to team with structural and civil engineers and geologists, who have devised a special type of concrete that they hope will cave in if smugglers use it for subterranean structural support.
Orwellian Wormholes
For a good overview of the unique characteristics of the “Ambos Nogales” watershed and how it shapes a more enlightening diagnosis of the border condition in general, you can refer this GIS document. It’s also an interesting read because through its mapping of the degraded hydrology it conjures a historic reflection on the failed bi-national cooperation that has festered between the U.S. and Mexico for decades; the watershed becomes a literal reflection of their grossly negligent relationship. … the whole site seems to have played out as some sort of de facto ‘environmentally toxic’ border fence.
The second article mentions a Canadian border tunnel. Here's the DEA press release on the tunnel, which ran from BC to WA, and was detected during construction.
posted by zamboni at 6:50 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obviously the DEA never watched Hogan's Heroes.
posted by incandissonance at 7:04 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Buy local.

Smokavore? Locasmoke? Victory gardens?
posted by pracowity at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Other Subtopia articles on US/MX tunnels:

Smugglers' Paradise Uprooted

Border Bound
Tunnelizing Migration 1: The Border Tunnel Capital of North America

Tunnelizing Migration 3: From Headwalls to Super Walls
Tunnelizing Migration 4: An Exploration in Void Reclamation

There appears to be no Tunnelizing Migration 2.
Tangentially related, what kind of fence do you build on sand?

Floating Fences 1: Imperial County
15 feet high, seven miles long and $40m dollars later the “floating fence” basically rests on top of the sand like a sort of tectonic sidewinder, unfastened to anything below the slippery surface. When the sands build up against the fence from winds the Border Patrol simply uses a machine to raise the fence and place it back on top of the sand’s surface again.
posted by zamboni at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Exactly! Victory gardens for when we win the war on drugs!

Obviously the DEA never watched Hogan's Heroes.

Or, more obviously, Weeds.
posted by zorrine at 7:27 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


zamboni
There appears to be no Tunnelizing Migration 2.
Tangentially related, what kind of fence do you build on sand?

Floating Fences 1: Imperial County
15 feet high, seven miles long and $40m dollars later the “floating fence” basically rests on top of the sand like a sort of tectonic sidewinder, unfastened to anything below the slippery surface. When the sands build up against the fence from winds the Border Patrol simply uses a machine to raise the fence and place it back on top of the sand’s surface again.
"And it sank! So we built another... which burnt, fell down, and then sank. But we built another, and it didn't sink, and by god, Son, THIS is the fence I will pass on to you!

"But Father, I don't want to be a DEA agent. I want to sing!"

"None of that! None of that!"
posted by IAmBroom at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interesting. I wonder if the smuggling tunnels in/around the Sinai are similarly crude or complex. ie is smuggling smuggling, or are the stakes higher with drugs vs consumer-goods and arms type contraband.
posted by k5.user at 8:00 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is my tumblr telling me there is revolution going on in Mexico right now?
posted by infini at 8:10 AM on August 13, 2012


Tunnelizing Migration 2 is my favorite Matthew Barney film.

The whole measure/counter-measure escalation of the drug war on the border is very fascinating. I love that they sealed the hole back up every time. It's just remarkably thorough.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:20 AM on August 13, 2012


My guess would be that there is far less money, because less profit, for the Sinai tunnels.
posted by OmieWise at 8:44 AM on August 13, 2012


Why is my tumblr telling me there is revolution going on in Mexico right now?

I don't know?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:46 AM on August 13, 2012


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: I don't know?
So, you're not sure if you know or not?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:48 AM on August 13, 2012


Agreed -- less profit, but because of that, less risk of crackdowns (ISTR Israel complaining about the smuggling tunnels and lack of oversight/shutdown on the Egypt side post-Hamas election win) ..

So does that mean more incentive (due to less risk) to build stable, "nice" tunnels (rails, lights, beams/reinforcements) etc or just quick/dirty one-offs that might collapse any day.
posted by k5.user at 8:52 AM on August 13, 2012


I hope this isn't seen as a derail, but in Gaza, whole herds of animals, a zoo and cars are moved through hidden tunnels: it's a whole economy.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:50 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a link to that derail, sorry.
posted by infini at 10:09 AM on August 13, 2012


At mealtimes, gangs of tunnel kids would materialize suddenly from the drainage grates ...

Talk about the apocalyptic future.

The War 0n Drugs--just as profitable for the economy as any war and just as destructive.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2012


I'm waiting for someone to invent a small, long-distance autonomous sub so that you could load up a couple kilos in Colombia, and have it wash up three months later on the shores of Detroit or Seattle or London. It's only a matter of time.
posted by miyabo at 2:44 PM on August 13, 2012


Inside, there is usually no room for the agents to wear a gun belt or flak jacket; they carry flashlights; one holds a pistol. The single thing Hecht says he never wants to see in a tunnel is someone else coming toward him with a gun. With no space to turn around, and potentially trapped from behind by his partner, he knows that such an encounter would almost certainly be fatal. “The only thing you can really do is hope you’re the one who shoots first … and hope the concussion from the shot doesn’t collapse the tunnel,” Pittman says.

The closest Hecht and Pittman have come to meeting their adversaries face-to-face underground are the times when, approaching the end of a tunnel, they’ve caught a whiff of cigarette or marijuana smoke, deliberately blown into the southern end by someone—at most, 10 feet away—as a warning. When that happened to Hecht, he stopped dead where he was. “I smelled it and went, ‘I’m out,’” he says.


Jesus. Interesting unspoken agreement there. "You do your business, but let me do mine." Neither side wants confrontation in the tunnels.
posted by schroedinger at 7:14 PM on August 13, 2012


miyabo, you're talking about autonomous underwater vehicles
posted by eviemath at 7:22 PM on August 13, 2012


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