Mexico: US admits it’s the source for drug gang arms

Statistics given to US senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) confirm claims that a high percentage of the illegal firearms in Mexico are smuggled from the US, although less than the 90% sometimes claimed in the past. The availability of illegal weapons in Mexico is a major factor in the more than 35,000 drug-related deaths in the country since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began militarizing the fight against drug cartels in December 2006.

The Mexican government submitted 29,284 illegal guns to the ATF for tracing in 2009 and 2010. The bureau determined that 15,131 of the weapons were manufactured in the US and that 5,373 were imported to the US before ending up in Mexico, so that a total of 70% of the guns that were traced came from the US. The origins of the other weapons couldn’t be determined. Mexico didn’t submit all the illegal weapons it seized, and it is unclear how many other illegal weapons were seized.

Mexico has strict regulations on gun sales, and most legal sales are processed through one store on a military base near Mexico City, while many states in the US have few restrictions, making it relatively easy to purchase guns legally in the US and then smuggle them to drug gangs in Mexico. Apparently there are also weapons that have gotten to the drug cartels because of a bungled operation by the ATF itself. Five arms found in a weapons cache in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, in April may be connected to Operation Fast and Furious, in which the ATF allowed guns to “walk” in order to trace the activities of US gun smugglers in the US Southwest.

The US arms industry disputes the ATF’s statistics. “I think all these numbers are phonied up for politics,” National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told the Wall Street Journal. But Dennis Henigan, vice president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the numbers show “[i]t’s beyond time for the United States to strengthen its gun laws and shut down the trafficking.” (WSJ, June 10)

Mexican government statistics indicate that the number of youths involved in drug gang activity has been increasing since 2006. The government reports that from December 2006 to January 2010 gang members executed 30,913 people and that 26.7% of them were 16-30 years old. Most of the executions took place in wars between rival drug cartels, so it is assumed that the victims were largely gang members themselves. What is striking is that the percentage of younger people in the gangs seems to be growing rapidly, based on the executions. In the northern state of Chihuahua, which has been especially hard hit by the drug wars, the executions of people between 15 and 30 represented 2.1% of the national total in 2008; in 2009 the number rose to 3.6%, and in 2010 it increased again to 5.1%, more than double what it had been two years before.

Josefina Rodríguez, coordinator of the 21st Century Youth association, blames the lack of opportunities for young people in Mexico for the rise in youth participation in the drug gangs. “What can happen is that we’ll have resentful and lost generations that will be very difficult to rescue,” she told the Mexican daily La Jornada. (LJ, June 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 12.

See our last post on Mexico’s narco wars.