Mexico seizes 105 tons of marijuana in Tijuana. Does it matter?

Mexico's national security spokesman Alejandro Poire on Tuesday trumpeted 'the largest seizure in the country's history of marijuana prepared and packed for sale and distribution.'

Guillermo Arias/AP
Soldiers and police officers escorted detainees after a joint operation with the army and local and state police seized 105 tons of US-bound marijuana Monday, by far the biggest drug bust in the country in recent years. Eleven suspects were detained.

It is another big coup in Mexico: more than 105 tons of marijuana confiscated in Tijuana this week.

With 15,000 packets counted, all found during raids in various houses in at least three neighborhoods around the border city, Mexico's national security spokesman Alejandro Poire Tuesday called it “the largest seizure in the country's history of marijuana prepared and packed for sale and distribution.”

But will this make a dent in the bi-national effort to stem the power of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico?

Probably not.

Weapons, cash, and drug seizures, as well as top arrests of drug traffickers, are always touted by the government as signs of success. While they are no doubt good news – and definitely give the government, normally battered by the ongoing violence in Mexico, a PR boost – they do little to impact the overall structure of criminal organizations, experts say.

But that didn't stop Mr. Poire from trumpeting the news on Tuesday, when he announced that Mexico has confiscated more than 7,400 tons of marijuana this year.

"This administration has maintained an important effort in the eradication and confiscation of illicit substances," he said Tuesday. "This is an important milestone that demonstrates the ability of the Mexican state when security forces in three levels of government coordinate and take responsibility around a common goal."

Big announcements, little change

As we reported in August, the arrest of Edgar Valdez Villarreal – "La Barbie" – was touted as a major victory in government corners, but it provoked skepticism among observers that the illegal drug trade would be remotely reduced by the arrest.

“The arrest of these drug lords does not have any significant effects in terms of flow of drugs to the US. It did not happen in Colombia, where the government has dismantled the big cartels but they are producing more cocaine,” said Jorge Chabat, who studies the drug war at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City.

Back in 2007, Mexican authorities confiscated $200 million in US cash from alleged methamphetamine producers in Mexico City. They hailed it then as the largest drug cash seizure in history. But the cases against the alleged meth producers have been thrown out. And the fallout from the drug trade continues, including political kidnappings and a death toll at over 28,000 in four years.

It's still significant, though

That said, the seizure Monday is significant for two reasons.

Poire said Tuesday that the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, were the likely traffickers of this shipment of drugs, worth over $340 million. "There are signs that [the drugs] are linked to the Pacific organization," he said.

Many observers have criticized the Mexican President Felipe Calderón's administration for heavily clamping down on drug trafficking organizations such as the Gulf Cartel while, they claim, leaving the Sinaloa group largely untouched.

Second, Tijuana sits right across the border from San Diego, and the seizure comes just as California voters are to head to the polls to vote on Proposition 19, which could legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana use. Poire said the drugs were US-bound.

Experts have debated whether the passage of the referendum would be a blow to revenue to Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Could it be they are trying to get the drugs through before the potential passage of the referendum?

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