Thursday, February 20, 2014

481-foot drug tunnel found crossing US-Mexico Border

Arizona Republic
February 14, 2014
by Daniel Gonzalez

NOGALES, Ariz. — Nogales has been the epicenter for cross-border drug tunnels for years. U.S. authorities have found 100 drug tunnels in that city since 1990, more than any other location along the 2,000-mile United States-Mexico border.

But the tunnel found this week tops them all. At 481 feet, longer than 11/2 football fields, it is the longest ever discovered in Nogales, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
The tunnel extended from a house in Nogales, Sonora, to a house in Nogales, Ariz., and was being used to smuggle marijuana and other drugs into the U.S., ICE officials said.

Federal authorities found a half pound of heroin and 46 pounds of marijuana inside.

They seized another 590 pounds of marijuana after stopping a vehicle federal agents saw driving away from the house in Nogales, Ariz., on Monday.

The house was under surveillance by a multiagency task force created in 2012 to find and dismantle drug tunnels.

The driver of the truck, Jesus Alberto Ramirez-Valencia, 22, a U.S. citizen from Nogales, Ariz., and two Mexican citizens, Jose Mario Armenta-Valdez, 41, and Jose Solorzano-Flores, 41, were charged with drug conspiracy.

The driver was apparently transporting the drugs to a second house where Solorzano-Flores was found outside, authorities say. Armenta-Valdez was arrested after federal agents raided the house, where an opening to the drug tunnel leading into the U.S. from Mexico was found.

Eric Balliet, assistant special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Nogales, said drug smugglers are resorting to tunnels because of tighter border security.

"If a drug-trafficking organization can establish a well-manufactured tunnel, the likelihood of a law-enforcement encounter is somewhat slim," Balliet said. "You don't run the risk of exposing your dope above ground, whether it's human backpackers or smuggling through the port or over the fence. It's completely concealed from start to finish."

The drug tunnel found Monday is the third uncovered in Nogales since December.

Since 1990, 169 tunnels have been found along the southern border, 100 of them in Nogales.

Last fiscal year, six of the seven tunnels found along the U.S.-Mexico border were found in Nogales.
 In 2012, seven of the 16 tunnels found on the border were in Nogales, and 12 of the 18 the year before that, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Nogales is popular for drug tunnels because smugglers can tap a vast underground drainage system that connects the border cities, Balliet said.

Once inside the drainage system, smugglers bore spider tunnels into the U.S., he said

The two cities also have large neighborhoods close to each other, making it easy for smugglers to dig tunnels from a house on the Mexican side to a house on the U.S. side, he said.

The tunnel found Monday stretched 70 feet from a house in Nogales, Sonora, to the U.S. border and then another 411 feet to a house in Nogales, Ariz., ICE officials said.

The passageway was roughly 2 feet wide and 3 feet high, and had wood shoring, electric lighting and ventilation fans, ICE officials said.

The tunnel task force includes officers from ICE, the Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Nogales police, and Mexican authorities.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Plans underway for border mural resurrection

Nogales International
February 14, 2014
by Curt Pendergast

Behind a copy shop in the Heroes neighborhood in Nogales, Sonora, 34 metal panels are stacked against a wall, waiting to return to their former glory.

The panels are covered with images that form a replica of a mural painted by Tzetzal Indians in 1998 depicting their lives and dreams after declaring themselves part of an autonomous Zapatista revolutionary municipality in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

The Mexican Army destroyed the mural the day after it was placed on the wall of a community center in Taniperla, Chiapas. In a sign of solidarity, artists from Southern Arizona and Nogales, Sonora painted a replica of the mural on the border fence in Nogales in 2005. Artists did the same elsewhere in Mexico, as well as in Argentina and San Francisco.

The 60-foot-long mural, known as “Vida y Suenos de la Canada Perla,” or “Life and Dreams of the Perla Ravine,” was on the brink of destruction in 2011 when the fence made of landing mat panels was replaced with the current bollard fence. But thanks to a cross-border collaboration between local artists, the Border Patrol, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the Sierra Club and other organizations, the mural was saved and put into storage, where it remained for nearly three years.
Two weeks ago, the members of Taller Yonke, or Junk Studio, moved the panels to their new location in Heroes in preparation for the mural’s resurrection.

Now, Taller Yonke members Guadalupe Serrano and Luis Diego Taddei are hoping that same binational spirit will help them restore the mural and mount it along the Buenos Aires thoroughfare, not far from an enormous public mural, also painted by the group members, depicting a desert scene and indigenous symbols on bridge supports and a road embankment.

They plan to have the mural restored in the next month or two. “The sooner, the better,” Serrano said as he showed this reporter and Dan Millis of the Sierra Club the plan for the mural’s resurrection.

In addition to looking for people who would like to re-paint the mural, the group is seeking donations from both north and south of the border. Serrano estimated that it will take $1,000 to resurrect the mural.

“It doesn’t have to be money,” Serrano said. “If you have a gallon of paint you’re not using, that would work.”

Mounting supplies, such as anchors and brackets, are also needed.

The group can be contacted through its “Taller Yonke” page on Facebook