7/27/2012

Infrastructure of transgression

Drug-smuggling tunnel. Originally appeared on The Gawker.
In just one week, three narco-tunnels have been discovered, with one located in Sonora and two in Tijuana. These are attributed to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman who has, for years, been enlisting the help of engineers and architects in the construction of subterranean corridors in order to avoid customs and sneak drugs into the United States.
Miguel A. Rodriguez writes on the Gawker. These images illustrate the ingenuity of this or those who constructed these tunnels to carry drugs, weapons, money and people. An underground urbanism that has been put into the raw light. An underground urbanism that, to quote architect Teddy Cruz, worming its way into houses, churches, parking lots, warehouses, and streets.


Mexico-U.S. drug tunnel called a better-late-than-never find | Drug Enforcement Administration
[L.A. Times, 2012]




Suggested article: Teddy Cruz | Mapping Non-Conformity: Post-Bubble Urban Strategies


But first off, a one-story warehouse, part of a strip mall, William C. Rempel writes in the Los Angeles Times. It is common to find mall infrastructure in near the US-Mexico border, as described by Teddy Cruz:
Drug Tunnel | Drug Enforcement Administration
> The tunnel shaft on the U.S. side descends 57 feet from a small, nondescript warehouse in San Luis, Arizona. [L.A. Times, 2012]

Large freeway and Mall infrastructure runs the length of Coastal San Diego, colliding with a natural network of canyons, rivers, and creeks that descend towards the Pacific Ocean.

A vertical shaft line — a 0,10 meter-wide by 0,20 meter-tall — wooden planks that leads to a tunnel — a 18 meters in depth, 230 meters in length, 1.3 meters high and one meter wide. William C Rempel, describes the tunnel as an ingenious infrastructure that links Mexico to the U.S.:
Drug Tunnel | Photo: Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun
> The one-story warehouse, Part of a strip mall only a few steps from the San Luis, Ariz., border crossing, had been under surveillance by DEA agent for several months as a suspected stash location [L.A. Times, 2012]

The "fully operational" tunnel is a 230-meter passageway, tall enough for a 1.80-meter person to walk through, that burrows under the border fence, a park and a water canal. It connects a small, nondescript warehouse on the U.S. side to an inoperative ice manufacturing plant behind a strip club in Mexico."

Other tunnels have been found in other areas, The Washington Post reports:
Drug Tunnel | Drug Enforcement Administration
> DEA agents found tons of sandy soil in the warehouse stored in dozens of 55-gallon drums,suggesting "there must be a tunnel" special agent Doug Coleman said. [L.A. Times, 2012] 

Two were found in the San Diego-Tijuana area, and another was found in a vacant strip mall storefront in the southwestern Arizona City of San Luis.

In addition with an uncompleted border tunnel near Nogales, Arizona. These sophisticated tunnels are well-equipped. Miguel A. Rodriguez writes:
[E]lectric installations, ventilation, beam reinforcements every 30 centimeters,  wood clad walls, a ceiling and floor, and carts to carry the drugs to a warehouse located in San Luis, Arizona.
One of these tunnels is also equipped with a railcar system. And William C Rempel reports:
Drug tunnel | Drug Enforcement Administration
> The 755-foot passageway is tall enough for a 6-foot person to walk through and is outfitted with lights, fan and a ventilation system. [L.A. Times, 2012]

The vertical shafts on both sides of the border descend 17.35 meters, creating what officials said were significant engineering challenges. […] Entry to the vertical shaft was underwater. Investigators had to drain a large tank to get to it.
But who is behind these tunnels? Perhaps engineers or architects. Indeed, such construction requires certainly a highly skillful contribution of architects and civil engineers, William C. Rempel notes. Reporting Doug Coleman, a special agent in charge of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency)' Phoenix field office, Rempel writes:
I would suspect that professional engineers were cooperating with the builders, if not working on site.

One year to build this tunnel without being detected by Authorities. This requires logically the participation of skilled practicians like architects or civil engineers. These drug-smuggling tunnels are very expensive: $1.5 million to $2 million. The same Rempel writes
[E]stimates […] were based on initial analysis of the material used in construction.
Miguel Rodriguez reports for the Gawker that:

[T]he construction of tunnels is nothing new. [Joaquin] "El Chapo" Guzman [leader of the Sinaloa cartel] is said to have ordered the construction of one of them by the architect Felipe de Jesus Corona, whose work really pleased the narco-trafficker. The tunnel was 61 meters long and had an entrance which was elevated by means of a hydraulic system and opened through a false water valve. The architect was arrested and condemned in 2006 to 18 years in prison. Because of this and other precedents, it is almost certain that these narco-tunnels discovered are the work of Chapo Guzman, as they are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and are constructed with modern machinery that costs thousands of dollars, which only the Sinaoloa cartel can afford.



Another aspect to these tunnels is their sophistication. The tunnel found in San Luis is equipped with underground sensors and directional devices, to assure, Rempel continues, that the tunnel from the Mexico side actually met the vertical shaft under the San Luis warehouse. The Washington Post pointed out that:

The 240-yard tunnel in Arizona showed a level of sophistication not typically associated with other crude smuggling passageways that tie into storm drains in the state.

I however cannot affirm whether or not these underground sensors work as tracking device detector or as spy camera. But that is another story. 
Tunnel can be viewed as both political and economic contexts as it sustains illicit exchanges that connect Mexico with the U.S.. 


Suggested article: Subtopia | Tunnelizing Migration3: From Headwalls to Super Walls


Skirting the US-Mexico border, a border with evidence under highly surveillance, has been made easier along with these tunnels. These tunnels also highlight a conflict between formal and informal. An counter spatial procedure that as now becoming visible may push smugglers, immigrants and other users to find new ways to circumnavigate the US-Mexico borders.


Suggested article: Subtopia | Tunnelizing Migration4: An Exploration in Void Reclamation


If, as aforementioned, some tunnels are built by narco-traffickers as these articles show up, others however, are simply spatially hacked. Bryan Finoki, author of Subtopia (we will use the name of his blog Subtopia), a brilliant blog on urban military, writes:
If tunnels are being dug, or spatially hacked into and out of existing drainways (at least fiteen in the last few months), then the only thing proving successful to me is the illicit tunnel industry itself. The reality is that some of the tunnels were already there prior to the fence (some that latched onto preexisting infrastructure underground) while others were built as border security revved to full speed. 

Suggested article: Teddy Cruz | Trans-Border Flows: Urbanisms Beyond the Poverty Line
Those tunnels demonstrate a spatial hacking of landscape to generate an informal economy that have been very productive for more than 35 years. Teddy Cruz writes in Mapping Non-Conformity: Post-Bubble Urban Strategies:
Drug Tunnels | Photo: Randy Hoeft/ Yuma Sun
> DEA agents peer down the tunnel entrance on the U.S. side. [L.A. Times, 2012]

When Kevin Lynch was commissioned by a local environmental group to come up with a "regional vision plan" for the US-Mexico border zone in 1974, he dreamed of a Temporary Paradise. Addressed to the City Planning Commission of San Diego, his bi-national planning strategy focused on the network of canyons and watersheds that traverse the landscape on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border. Lynch could never have predicted that neither the natural landscape nor city planners would define the real action plan for trans-border urbanism and that, instead, it would be an emergent network of underground tunnels masterminded by drug lords and "coyotes", who would quietly and invisibly efface the formidable barrier that separates the two cities. Now, 34 years later, at least 30 tunnels have been discovered — a vast "ant farm"-like maze of subterranean routes, all of which have been dug within the last eight years, criss-crosses the border from California to Arizona. At the very least, this creates a permanent hell for the US Department of Homeland Security.


Drug-smuggling out of Mexico's frontiers can no longer be accommodated within the US territory due to latest technologies that reinforce surveillance: tracking devices, spy operation, ect. In this context, tunnels act as zones par excellence, shifting, scalable, and flexible by their use, in which drugs as well as illegal migration and diverse traffic can circulate. Subtopia writes:

[T]he tunnels are already serving numerous possibilities as we speak piping drugs and people across the border, water and oxygen, cash, weapons, rats, streams of piss, electric cables, newborn babies, mining carts and tracks, information, surveillance feeds, history, politics (take away the illegality of drugs and cross border migration and these spaces would not even exist: they are by definition anti-public).
It seems that the discovery of tunnels has placed the space of underground at the forefront of global consciousness and extended its illegal characteristics across a new interrelationship between Mexico and the U.S. and farther a geopolitical construction space. The tunnels can also be viewed as, I paraphrase Subtopia, footprint of a global city that cannot be seen:

Ghost cities of transnational capital - the tunnels as hard physical entrails of network infrastructure's global legacy. Smuggler urbanism.
Suggested article: Subtopia | Tunnelizing Migration1: The Border Tunnel Capital of North America

If I follow Subtopia — and I could not but agree with him — these border tunnels can be viewed as liquid landscape capable of circumnavigating anything. An interesting description of these liquid spaces can be found in Teddy Cruz's text Trans-Border Flows: Urbanisms Beyond the Poverty Line as such:
An archaeological section map of the border territory today would reveal an underground urbanism made of at least 30 tunnels, a vast "ant farm"-like maze of subterranean routes criss-crossing the border from California to Arizona — all dug within the last eight years — worming it's way into houses, churches, parking lots, warehouses, and streets on both sides of the border. The most outlandish and sophisticated of these tunnels, discovered by US border officials in January of this year, is clearly the work of professionals: up to 70 feet below ground and 2,400 feet in length, its passageways are five to six feet high and four feet wide to permit two-way circulation. Striking not only for its scale, but also for its "amenities," the tunnel is equipped with ventilation and drainage systems, water pumps, electricity, retaining reinforcements, and stairs connecting various levels. Beyond its use by drug traffickers, it was also "leased out" during "off" hours to coyotes transporting illegal aliens into the US, making it perhaps the first mixed-use smuggling tunnel at the border. Some might see this as a marvel of informal trans-national infrastructure, but most local understand it as just another example of the vigorous Mexican-American economy at work? Beyond the sensationalism that might accompany these images, it is the undeniable presence of an informal economy as well as the political informalities of density that surround the border what is producing a unique urbanism of mobility and contingency.
These tunnels reveal the power of transgression, this search for reprogramming and alienating existing infrastructural to skirt surveillance. Globalization will be likely to encourage or exacerbate these informal appropriation, manipulation, acts and transcription. Fitting the tunnel into a zone of circulation where flows of migrants, goods, drugs, so forth, can move illegally, drug-smugglers and "coyotes" have made the tunnel an invisible interface translated into a shared space, in a way.


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