By Manuel Ayala
Tijuana, Mexico, May 18 (EFE).- A modest one-story house in this northwestern Mexican border city served to conceal one end of a sophisticated narco-tunnel used to smuggle drugs to San Diego, California.
US authorities found the tunnel – equipped with reinforced walls, a rail system, ventilation and electricity – last Friday and announced their discovery on Monday.
The small Tijuana residence that marked the passage’s starting point on the Mexican side of the border is situated in a working-class neighborhood.
The home is located just 800 meters (2,620 feet) from the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, one of three official border crossings in the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan region, and 300 meters from a stretch of border wall that was reinforced two years ago as part of then-US President Donald Trump’s plan to halt the northward flow of undocumented migrants.
Local residents interviewed by Efe said Wednesday they never imagined that a drug tunnel ran from the house and that the people they saw entering and leaving the residence were members of the Sinaloa cartel, a powerful drug gang accused of building and operating the passage.
They said they often saw US-bound cargo trucks being inspected by Mexican customs officials outside the home and that once every three days an outdoor market installed on that street attracted a large crowd of people.
A man who used the fictitious name Jose for safety reasons said he and his family are now fearful.
“With this, we get the sense of living among criminals and we hadn’t realized it before,” he said. “We fear what might happen after all this.”
Another local resident who preferred to remain anonymous said that while it is common knowledge that a series of narco-tunnels have been found in that border area, “we’d never have imagined that they were doing this here, among the people you know.”
A MAJOR DRUG TUNNEL
Mexican authorities confirmed to media outlets on Monday that the tunnel was in operation at the time of its discovery and was mainly being used to move drugs northward to the other side of the border.
Randy Grossman, US attorney for the US District Court for the Southern District of California, said the cross-border narco-tunnel measured 19 meters (61 feet) in depth, 532 meters in length and 1.2 meters in diameter.
He added that six people have been arrested.
Four of them will face charges of conspiracy to smuggle 793 kilograms (1,750 pounds) of cocaine, while two others will be charged with conspiracy to smuggle 74 kilos of methamphetamines and 1.6 kilos of heroin.
The first tunnels of this type were discovered in the 1990s and have been used mainly for drug smuggling, although some have served as people-trafficking passageways.
Mexican authorities say 15 tunnels have been found since 2006 along the border separating California from northwestern Mexico, mostly in the Otay industrial zone because its terrain is particularly suitable for the construction of this type of infrastructure.
Investigators with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday afternoon obtained a search warrant for the interior of the tunnel, but they have not yet released an official report on their findings.