The Texas Highway Patrol, whichworks alongside the U.S. Border Patrol to stop illegal drug smuggling fromMexico, is getting new means to chase down the black hats: six 34-footgunboats, outfitted with automatic weapons and bulletproof shielding, accordingto a report by KHOU television in Houston.
The vessels, which are similar toU.S. Navy gunboats used in rivers during the Vietnam War and are capable ofoperating in as little as 2 feet of water, are scheduled to launch in March.
(The video below was shot from a helicopter shows a “splashdown” escape, in whichsuspected drug traffickers being pursued by authorities drive their truck intothe Rio Grande river, where it forms the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. They arethen picked up with their cargo and ferried back to Mexico in rafts)
Officials quoted in the story saidthat drug cartels increasingly were using the river to smuggle drugs into theUnited States, or fleeing safely back to Mexico if detected.
The new vessels, emblazoned with”Texas Highway Patrol” logos, are part of a growing presence on theborder by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which also has a $4 millionreconnaissance helicopter which was purchased with seized drug money, accordingto KHOU
“It sends a message,” JoseRodriguez, Texas DPS Regional Commander told the station. “Don’t mess withTexas.”
The boats — costing about $3.5million — were funded with a combination of Texas legislative money andfederal grants, according to DPS spokesman Tom Vinger. They will operate on theRio Grande and lakes that feed it as well as on the Intercoastal Waterway, anarrow channel between the coast of Texas and South Padre Island.
|Drugtraffickers caught on video boats & aircraft equipped with cameras
He said they were in part a responseto the “splashdown” strategy that drug traffickers have used inrecent years to avoid arrest and confiscation of the drugs. When pursued, somesmugglers drive into the river where they are met by boats that take the peopleand cargo back to the Mexico side of the border river.
“Just like any patrol unit, the(gunboat) patrols give higher visibility to deter and, if necessary, tointerdict,” said Vinger.
The nonprofit Texas Border Coalitionsaid resources to stop drug smuggling and other illicit activities — includingsmuggling of illegal immigrants — would be more effectively utilized byinvesting in legal border crossings.
The border checkpoints are”woefully lacking” in technology and personnel, said Julie Hillrichs,spokeswoman for the organization, which studies a range of issues that affectborder communities. The result is not only continued smuggling, but hours-longwait times for legitimate commerce, she said.
In a recent report the coalition said anestimated 90 percent of the cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine andMDMA smuggled across the border comes through checkpoints alongside legalcommerce.
“We’re not suggesting thatthese vessels would not be needed,” said Hillrichs. “We’re justsaying that we have identified what we believe to be a weaker link. Drugcartels don’t send drugs through the river; they smuggle it through the bordercrossings,” she said.
|Schedlued to launch in March 2012
The federal government has spentmore than $90 billion over the last decade to secure the U.S.-Mexico border — asignificant portion of which has funded use of the U.S. military, including theNational Guard, to bolster U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protectionforces, the coalition said.
SOURCE: Kari Huus, msnbc.com