Mexico trying harder to catch smuggled US guns
MEXICO CITY – Try to bring a refrigerator into Mexico in the back of your pickup, and you are almost certain to get stopped by Mexican customs officials. Stick a couple of AK-47 rifles in your trunk, and chances are you’ll whiz right through.
Now Mexico is owning up to its leaky border as it launches a new program to monitor vehicles entering the country. The goal is to weigh and photograph southbound cars and trucks, in hopes of snaring more gun smugglers.
As the Obama administration promises a crackdown on the illegal U.S. weapons trade that supplies the drug cartels, Mexico is acknowledging shortcomings on its side of the 2,000-mile border.
“Security concerns require a customs overhaul,” Alfredo Gutierrez Ortiz, who oversees border checkpoints as director of Mexico’s tax collection agency, said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. “Today, passenger vehicles really enter without being inspected.”
Mexico checks only 10 percent of the 230,000 vehicles that cross the border each day, according to the federal Attorney General’s Office. By weighing cars to see if they are unusually heavy, and running license plate numbers through a database of suspicious vehicles, the government hopes to catch more hidden contraband.
The United States has long weighed and checked the license plates of northbound vehicles, but the technology is new to Mexico, which is installing it at all customs checkpoints. It was introduced last week at Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, and should be added along Mexico’s border with Guatemala by year’s end. Such a systematic effort would be a big improvement: Inspections are now mostly determined by lights that randomly flash red or green. Frequent travelers say it is rarely red.
Inside Mexico, strict gun control laws prohibit sales of weapons with calibers higher than a .38 handgun. Even to buy those, citizens must get permission from the Defense Department.