Guns and ammunition are smuggled into Mexico from the United States inside gas tanks, spare tires and bottles of soft drinks among other things, National Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval revealed on Wednesday.
Speaking at the presidential press conference, the army chief said that the armed forces and custom officials have also detected weapons inside washing machines, televisions and even boxes of chocolates.
Guns are also often concealed in hidden compartments in vehicles, Cresencio said, adding that there have been cases in which gunrunners have attempted to pass weapons off as toys. He cited several specific cases in which illicit cargo has been seized.
At customs in Tijuana, cartridges were detected inside soda bottles, he said, while in San Emeterio, Sonora, 55,000 cartridges, 19 guns and 12 grenade launchers were found hidden in a semi-trailer.
At customs in Sonoyta, Sonora, weapons and cartridges were found under the seats of a bus that entered Mexico from the U.S., and weapons, magazines and ammunition were detected in the gas tank of a pickup truck, he said.
At Nogales, 320 kilometers to the east in the same state, weapons and ammunition have been detected inside car doors, while three guns were found inside a television at customs in Ojinaga, Chihuahua.
The army chief said that vehicles are selected randomly for inspection, explaining that checking all those that cross into Mexico from the U.S. is not possible because of the delays it would generate and the effect it would have on legal, perishable goods entering the country.
Cresencio said President López Obrador had instructed the armed forces to focus more on stopping weapons coming into Mexico than drugs bound for the United States.
“In this administration, the president instructed us to change the direction of inspections at our military security posts. Before all our military posts carried out inspections [of vehicles traveling] from south to north, we were looking to seize drugs, but the president instructed us to change,” he said.
In addition to weapons and ammunition, cash has also been seized since the change was made, Cresencio said.
While cars and trucks are most frequently used for the smuggling of both weapons and drugs, illicit goods are also transported by rail, the defense secretary said. All told, the military has destroyed almost 20,000 weapons that were seized in 26 states across the country this year, Cresencio said.
López Obrador told reporters that the smuggling of guns and cash into Mexico will be discussed at meetings this week between government officials and United States Attorney General William Barr.
The Secretariat of Foreign Affairs said earlier this year that firearms from the United States are used in seven out of every 10 high-impact crimes committed in Mexico.
The president stressed on Wednesday that his government will not permit any operations similar to the “fast and furious” gunwalking scandal in which U.S. government officials allowed weapons to be smuggled into Mexico during the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The aim of the operation was to track the guns to cartel leaders and arrest them.
“The government will now allow any operation like the ‘fast and furious’ [scandal] because that, if you remember, was a flagrant violation of our sovereignty . . .Weapons were allowed to come in [to Mexico] in order to supposedly follow organized crime members but they lost track of those same weapons and it was later shown that they were used to commit crimes. The plan was a resounding failure. Those activities, those agreements will not be allowed,” López Obrador said.
“What we’re proposing is for there to be control of the exit of weapons and dollars on the United States side [of the border] . . . We need to cooperate to strengthen relations on the issues of drugs, migration and arms trafficking . . .” he said.
Barr’s visit to Mexico comes a month after U.S. President Donald Trump offered to help Mexico “wage war” on Mexican drug cartels and a week after he said the cartels will be designated as terrorist organizations.
Trump’s remarks were made following a spate of shocking cartel attacks including the massacre of nine members of a Mormon family who were both Mexican and U.S. citizens.