Arms trafficking, cornerstone of crime in Mexico

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (left) was elected president of Mexico in 2018 at the end of a campaign during which he had promised his fellow citizens to significantly reduce the corruption, impunity and insecurity. Themes corresponding to the concerns of Mexicans: in September 2017, a survey showed that 84% of them considered that crime and corruption were the main problems of the country.

One of the main strategies in the fight against corruption and crime was summed up in a famous phrase from the film The President's Men (1976) (devoted to the Watergate affair), inviting people to stop focusing on the people involved at the end of the chain and, instead, to follow the trail of the money: “Follow the money”. This phenomenon has been studied in numerous works, in particular devoted to tax heavens.

Inspired by this principle, the present contribution proposes, in order to better understand the phenomenon of crime in Mexico, not to follow the trail of criminals, but of weapons, since the quantity of weapons in circulation is directly linked to that of homicides and other crimes. In fact, there are more civilian homicides in Mexico than in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Mexico: assault rifles and armored vehicles, the show of force of a powerful cartel – Le Parisien.

The influx of weapons purchased in the United States

In 2010, Mexico has spent US$47 to import military, civilian firearms and ammunition, including more than 50% came from the United States (67% of ammunition). This represented 0,45% of GDP, and in 2020 the percentage rises to almost 0,57%.

However, there is a whole invisible market, facilitated by US policies. The United States is the largest arms producers in the world, and the port of arms is there considered a constitutional right. Conversely, Mexico has prohibitive policies on the carrying of weapons. However, there is a concentration of gun shops about Southern U.S. states that border Mexico, although recent studies show that it is not "the whole border" which is concerned, but rather certain hotspots weapons. A significant proportion of US armories depends growing demand from Mexico, and 14% of weapons destined to enter Mexico illegally are intercepted by the authorities of both countries (12% by Mexicans and 2% by the United States). In other words, gun control at the border is totally ineffective, both on the Mexican side and on the US side.

One of the explanations for this ineffectiveness is probably that the two governments in 2009 developed a secret strategy called "Fast and Furious" aimed at arresting drug traffickers. Tracers had been integrated for this purpose into the illegal weapons that the traffickers bought in the United States and with which they crossed the border. Mexican President Felipe Calderón (right, 2006-2012) thus accepted that these firearms enter Mexico – and therefore cause victims there –, believing that this would make it possible to arrest a certain number of drug traffickers.

Mexico indicts seven people as part of the “Fast and furious” strategy (Fox 10 Phoenix).

Since start of the “war on drugs” in 2007, the trafficking groups became more violent, multiplied and began to obtain income from other activities, so that they could be qualified as “geopolitical criminals”. As indicated by a expert in organized crime in Mexico, cartels have long since evolved into business networks organizing multiple types of scams: from financial fraud (money laundering or the use of tax havens) to people smuggling (migrants), to oil theft , the extortion of gold mines, the very profitable drug trafficking or, of course, the trafficking of large caliber weapons.

The border between the United States and Mexico is porous for all that goes south and tight for all that goes north. It is true that the realities are extremely contrasting in terms of trust in institutions or salaries (5 dollars per day in one and 7 dollars per hour in the other).

A lawsuit that could change the situation

If we place this phenomenon in the context of a Mexican state with weak capacities; of a judicial system dysfunctional ; of a society marked by great inequalities and appalling working conditions ; a failed war on drugs since 2007; decades of criminal presence; and of the inability of society as a whole to deal with these problems, it is unsurprising that the situation is in line with what multiple studies have revealed on a planetary scale: criminal cells are maintained and reproduced by young people aged 16 to 24 who are socio-economically disadvantaged, and Mexico is no exception.

However, since his election in 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has not stood idly by. In August 2021, the Mexican government, represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, filed a lawsuit in Boston against the arms manufacturers Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock and Ruger, the accusing of being weapon enablers for Mexican cartels.

Un official document presented by Mexico in this trial claims that between 70 and 90 percent of weapons found at crime scenes in Mexico have been illegally trafficked from the United States and that the US industry "knows how to manufacture and sell arms to avoid this illegal trade", since her own government has recommended to her since 2001 to control and supervise the sale of arms, which she has refused.

The essential control of the American arms industry

It is clear that the United States arms market has need mexican demand to survive. We think that 2,5 million weapons have entered Mexico illegally over the past ten years: Mexican organized crime has therefore largely contributed to the financial health of the US arms industry during this decade.

Both countries obviously have an interest in ensuring that their citizens stop being killed by firearms in the hands of criminal elements, and therefore that these firearms are much more controlled. Fact, thirteen states of the United States supported the lawsuit of the Mexican government. Because it fuels gun violence, they say the commercialization policy is unacceptable, including in the United States itself.

Reducing these arms flows would have a clear impact on Mexico's homicide rate - which reached in 2018 the scandalous level of 29,1 victims per 100 inhabitants –, and in the United States – 4,9, among the highest of the G7 countries. Without collaboration, no public policy will be able to effectively reduce violence, inequality and crime in these two countries.

Jaime Aragon Falomir, Lecturer in Latin American Civilization, University of the West Indies

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Photostock by Leonardo Em / Mexico City, 2019, Weapons seized by police and rendered unusable

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