For decades, narcotraffickers have been employing inventive methods to transport drugs, including using long-stretched tunnels with lighting and ventilation systems, camouflaged semisubmersibles for more discreet navigation, and drones. Now drug dealers are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis, using much-needed surgical face masks to disguise and “mask” narcotics.
On March 13 the Peruvian police said they seized cocaine bound for Hong Kong camouflaged in surgical masks. The Associated Press reported that a postal parcel had more than 2 pounds of drugs distributed among boxes containing Peruvian-made surgical face masks, which were being shipped to a hospital in Hong Kong to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This was not an isolated case. According to news portal Peru21, just a few days before the March 13 drug bust, Peruvian authorities had also seized 5.3 pounds of cocaine in warehouses in the port city of Callao, packed alongside boxes of disposable surgical face masks bound for China.
Drugs inside avocados
Another method for transporting drugs, which has seen a recent rise, according to a report by Colombian news outlet El Tiempo, is placing drugs inside and among tropical fruits and plants. With almost surgical precision, Colombian drug dealers are inserting drugs into avocados without damaging the fruit, which look intact from the outside.
In another article published by El Tiempo, on March 6, in the city of Santa Marta, in the northwest of Colombia, police seized 1,032 pounds of cocaine from an avocado shipment headed to Belgium. The drugs were found hidden in plastic packets inside of the pits of the avocados. Given booming demand for this fruit around the world, control of the avocado trade is now being bitterly fought over by various cartels not only in Colombia, but also in Mexico, reported InSight Crime.
In late March, a truck carrying tomatoes being brought into the United States from Mexico was sent for closer inspection in Laredo, Texas, by local authorities. An anti-narcotics dog detected a strange odor in the container and authorities soon confirmed that the vehicle was carrying a shipment of drugs. When checking the 654 packages of tomatoes, U.S. authorities recorded a single seizure of 1,847 pounds of methamphetamine that was to be sold for $36.9 million on the black market, according to Univision.
On March 24, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers assigned to the cargo facility at the Pharr–Reynosa International Bridge, which crosses the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border, encountered a truck with a commercial shipment of fresh bananas arriving from Mexico. An intensive secondary examination, which included the use of a canine team, resulted in officers discovering 200 packages of alleged marijuana hidden within the boxes of fresh bananas. This interception is valued at $923,290, according to CBP.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, transnational criminal organizations haven’t slowed down trying to pour drugs into our country. Yesterday [March 31], Border Patrol agents seized 130 pounds of cocaine at a checkpoint. We will continue to fight against these ruthless organizations,” tweeted Mark Morgan, Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on April 1.