Law enforcement officials estimate that 72 percent of all cocaine smuggled into the United States is shipped through the Mexico-Central America corridor. Cocaine transported via this route is usually moved first by sea through the eastern Pacific or the western Caribbean and then brought ashore in Mexico or Central America. Fishing vessels and speedboats are the favored vehicles used by traffickers to smuggle cocaine into Mexico; private aircraft are also used for transport into southern Mexico and Guatemala.
Once the cocaine has made it to Mexico, the shipments are broken down into smaller quantities; Mexican trafficking organizations, which control the movement of cocaine across the U.S. border, then load the cocaine into vehicles or small aircraft for transport through and out of Mexico. Occasionally traffickers use pedestrians, railways, and buses to smuggle the cocaine into the U.S.
In the U.S., the principal transportation hubs in the southwest are Los Angeles, central Arizona (the cities of Phoenix and Tucson), El Paso, and Houston. From these transportation hubs cocaine is moved over U.S. interstate highways to cities and distribution centers on the West Coast and in the Midwest.
Cocaine shipped to Los Angeles then supplies cities and distribution centers such as San Francisco, Portland, Atlanta, New York, Dallas, St. Louis, Jackson, and Minneapolis. The central Arizona transportation hub supplies all of Arizona, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. The El Paso transportation hub supplies Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe, Kansas City, and St. Louis. The Houston transportation hub supplies Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, New Orleans, and St. Louis. Increasingly, Houston is becoming a major domestic source for product that is eventually imported into New York City.
On April 23, 2004, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against Otto Herrera-Garcia, one of the largest drug traffickers in Central America. The indictment states that from March 1996 to October 2003, Herrera-Garcia and four other defendants were responsible for smuggling thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia through El Salvador to Guatemala and then to Mexico for ultimate importation into the U.S. The investigation linked the Herrera-Garcia organization to five loads of cocaine, totaling more than 6,500 kilograms. In addition, Guatemalan law enforcement agents seized more than 14 million dollars, believed to be laundered cocaine profits for the month of April 2003.