clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mexico replaces customs staff, revamps borders

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has replaced all 700 of its customs inspectors with agents newly trained to detect contraband, from guns and drugs to TVs and other big-ticket appliances smuggled to avoid import duties.

The shake-up — part of a broader effort to root out corruption and improve vigilance at Mexican ports with new technology — doubled the size of Mexico's customs inspection force.

The inspectors were replaced with 1,400 agents who have undergone background checks and months of training, Tax Administration Service spokesman Pedro Canabal said Sunday.

He said the previous inspectors were not fired. Instead, government did not rehire them when their contracts expired, Canabal said.

The main focus of the overhaul is to combat tax evasion, although Mexico is also trying to seize more guns smuggled in from the United States and elsewhere that end up in the hands of ruthless drug gangs. Mexican cartels are responsible for the majority of cocaine smuggled from South America to the United States.

Custom inspectors turned over their weapons to soldiers before leaving their posts at airports and border crossings across the country Saturday night. Enrique Torres, a spokesman for the military and federal police in the northern city of Ciudad Juarez, said soldiers were at the border crossing with El Paso, Texas, to help avoid violence during the transition.

The new agents, most of whom have post-high school education, were chosen in a "strict selection process that included psychological and toxicological checks, as well as the necessary investigations to ensure they have no criminal record," according to a Tax Administration statement.

They were trained in legal aspects of foreign trade and taught to use new equipment installed at border crossings, including X-ray and gamma ray machines to scan for hidden contraband. More dogs trained to sniff out drugs and other banned goods are also being added.

"We need more than just a body with a weapon," Canabal said.

Mexico has been checking only 10 percent of the 230,000 vehicles that cross the border each day, according to the federal Attorney General's Office.

Now, with new technology, agents will weigh and photograph every car and truck that crosses the border and run license plate numbers through a database of suspicious vehicles in the hopes of catching more hidden contraband.