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Tijuana officials begin burning 134 tons of marijuana seized in record pot bust

October 20, 2010 |  5:17 pm

Mexican officials Wednesday began burning 134 tons of marijuana seized in what authorities believe is the largest pot bust in the nation's  history.

As a drum and bugle corps played in the background, soldiers piled thousands of blocks of marijuana onto a wooden platform during a ceremony at a military base in Tijuana that included dozens of local, state and federal officials. The roughly 10-foot-high by 100-foot-wide pile was then sprayed with diesel fuel.

At 4:40 p.m., an army general pushed a button, triggering an electrical charge that detonated gunpowder beneath the pile.

Baja California authorities seized the marijuana Monday morning. About 15,300 packages of marijuana were hidden inside six cargo containers stored in a warehouse in an industrial area of the border city.   161712.ME.1020.tijuanapot.14

The marijuana was discovered after police intercepted a convoy of vehicles escorting a tractor-trailer that had left the warehouse, officials said.

After a shootout, 11 people were arrested. Police and soldiers, acting on information from the suspects, raided the warehouse and two homes near the coast, where smaller amounts of marijuana were found.

The neatly packaged cannabis -- guarded by masked, heavily armed soldiers -- was later displayed for the media at an army base. Gen. Alfonso Duarte Mugica, the military's top commander in Baja California, said the pot had an estimated street value of about $340 million.

The drugs were destined for the U.S., he said.

The seizure is the latest blow against organized crime in Baja California, a major staging ground for drug smuggling into California. In April, the military seized 19 tons of pot in a Tijuana warehouse.

"With these results, it is evidence once again that the strategy ... continues striking the operations and financial structure of the organized crime groups," said a statement released by the Mexican military.

Officials said a preliminary investigation showed that the marijuana, broken into smaller shipments, was transported to Tijuana by the Sinaloa cartel, also known as the Pacific cartel.

“There are indications that suggest that it belongs to the organization of the Pacific,” said Alejandro Poire, security spokesman for Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

The marijuana arrived via land, air and sea routes, according to Duarte.

The find is considered Mexico’s largest-ever pot bust. Intitally, officials estimated that the pot weighed only 105 tons. The Mexican military announced the updated figures after weighing the packages.

 -- Richard Marosi in Tijuana

Photos: Soldiers at an army base in Tijuana soaked the 134 tons of marijuana with diesel fuel and burned them. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times