Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Business in time of drugs

Marijuana entered a Sharp Electronics assembly plant in Rosarito, Mexico, last year via a components supplier.

U.S. Customs agents got a surprise on April 9, when they checked a trailer of an 18-wheel truck crossing into El Paso, Texas, from Mexico and found more than 9,000 pounds of marijuana hidden among auto parts bound for U.S. factories.

A startling aspect of the bust: The pot was packed into a shipment belonging to auto parts giant Delphi Corp. The Michigan-based company has operated in Mexico for decades, ranks among the country's top three private employers, and, until now, has never had an incident where drugs were found among its cargo, according to the company.

The question, of course, is how 4.5 tons of weed got inside the truck; another question is how, and where, it was to be offloaded.

A year ago, a ton and a half of marijuana entered Sharp Electronics Co.'s television assembly plant in Rosarito, a suburb of Tijuana, through a Mexican supplier delivering components, and then was transferred to an outbound trailer of widescreen TVs, according to one person familiar with the case. The drugs were detected before the trailer left the plant, according to the company. Company officials declined to offer other details, but said no Sharp employee was implicated.

Who was implicated, then?

Mexico is the U.S.'s second-largest trade partner and perennially among the top ten destinations for U.S. companies investing abroad, getting about $10 billion worth of U.S. investment last year. Most of that investment is in the north of the country -- where assembly plants known as maquiladoras import components for items like auto parts and then export the finished goods. That border region is also where the drug-related violence is worst.

Is it more than coincidence that both investment and violence are great by the border?

Besides installing GPS monitors, trucking firm Rapid Transfer Express, known as RTX, also equipped each of its 250 trucks in Mexico with "panic" buttons that drivers can activate in the event of a hijack attempt. RTX dispatchers view computer screens in the U.S. to constantly monitor trucks' progress and can shut down a truck's motor remotely at the first sign of trouble.

Impressive technology.

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