Rise of the Super Drug Tunnels

This short film from Reason takes a look at the struggle against the ever increasing number of tunnels being dug by drug cartels to transport drugs from Mexico into the United States. It focuses on Joe Garcia, a deputy special agent with the Department of Homeland Security and head of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, who has discovered and shut down over two hundred tunnels since 1990, even as new ones continue to proliferate. It also features insightful commentary from David Shirk, associate professor of international relations and director of the Justice in Mexico project at the University of San Diego, who argues that simply throwing more money at the government agencies fighting this problem is a futile solution; “You can’t fight markets,” he says.

The whole phenomenon of drug tunnels is shocking to me, a case of what seemed like fantasy revealing itself to be reality. Just a few years ago I thought that the idea was outlandish when I first encountered it in television shows like “Weeds” and in movies like “Fast & Furious.” But smuggling drugs into the country via tunnels has been a known practice since the Prohibition era, according to this film. In the past two decades though tunnels have gotten more elaborate and become a more effective tool for cartels. (Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article on the hunt for Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera also details how the Sinaloa cartel leader turned tunnels into a crucial tool for his successful escalation of the drug trade.) A drug tunnel, it turns out, costs as much as US$2 million to construct, but can make back that money in just its first day of operation. With that kind of incentive, it’s no wonder that this problem is so intractable.