The US Justice Department filed lawsuits against Union Pacific Railroad Co. March 18 seeking $37 million in damages for allegedly failing to prevent its rail cars from being used to smuggle drugs into the country. US customs inspectors on at least 38 occasions between 2001 and 2006 discovered a total of two tons of marijuana and 100 kilograms of cocaine in Union Pacific rail cars at the border crossings of Brownsville and Calexico, according to the two complaints.
The suits were filed after the Omaha-based company refused to pay several penalties, saying it has limited ability to control train operations by its corporate partner in Mexico. “We’re being punished for drug smuggling from Mexico that we have no ability to prevent,” said Donna Kush, a representative for Union Pacific, North America’s largest railroad company. The Homeland Security Department has told Union Pacific it should hire an outside security company or work with its business partner, Ferrocarril Mexicano, of which it is a part owner. Countered Kush: “We wouldn’t be allowed to carry arms or use K-9 teams… We’d be unarmed in the face of vicious drug gangs.” (LAT, March 19)
The move against Union Pacific comes just as a trade war is looming between US and Mexico over provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico is threatening to raise tariffs on 90 US industrial and agricultural goods—including wheat, beef, rice and bean—in reprisal for Washington’s cancellation of a pilot cross-border trucking program. The program, which would allow Mexican trucks to operate in the US, was a commitment under the trade agreement. Congress killed the pilot program in an amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to an appropriations bill recently signed by President Barack Obama. (Reuters, March 16)