TIJUANA, Mexico — Assassins blasted Ricardo Rosas Alvarado, a member of an elite state police force, with a blizzard of bullets pumped out of AK-47 assault rifles.
Alvarado crumpled at the wheel of his sedan, yet another victim of the weapons known here as “goat’s horns” because of their curved ammunition clips, and which can fire at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. The killing, Mexican authorities said, was a panorama of blood, shattered glass and torn metal that brutally showcased the firepower of Mexico’s drug cartels. But that was just the warm-up.
Two hours later, a small army of cartel hit men descended on a federal police office and bunkhouse in this crowded city at one of the world’s busiest border crossings. None of the officers, who had recently been sent here to crush the drug gangs terrorizing the city, were killed in the hail of more than 1,200 bullets, authorities said. But police veterans understood the message delivered to the newcomers: “Welcome to Tijuana. Our guns are bigger than your guns.”
The high-powered guns used in both incidents on the evening of Sept. 24 undoubtedly came from the United States, say police here, who estimate that 100 percent of drug-related killings are committed with smuggled U.S. weapons.
The guns pass into Mexico through the “ant trail,” the nickname for the steady stream of people who each slip two or three weapons across the border every day. The “ants” — along with larger smuggling operations — are feeding a rapidly expanding arms race between Mexican drug cartels.
The U.S. weapons — as many as 2,000 enter Mexico each day, according to a Mexican government study — are crucial tools in an astoundingly barbaric war between rival cartels that has cost 4,000 lives in the past 18 months and sent law enforcement agencies in Washington and Mexico City into crisis mode.
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Recently Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made the rounds, including my show, to trumpet progress along the border. But skeptics point to the fact that only 151 miles of border fencing have been constructed, and only a small portion of those miles are “double-fenced.” The Bush Administration might have had a chance at some sort of immigration reform in early ’08 had it just thrown everything into bringing the border under control, which it hasn’t and now almost certainly lacks the time for. Meanwhile the guns keep heading south, and the people with who knows what in their possession, keep heading north.