Mexico: “walked” US guns found at cartel enforcer’s home

Forty of the firearms that Mexican police seized on April 30 at the home of an alleged drug trafficker in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua turn out to be among the 2,000 weapons that reached Mexico as a result of the US government’s bungled Operation Fast and Furious. The house, which was empty when police arrived, belonged to José Antonio Torres Marrufo, considered by US authorities a top enforcer for the Sinaloa drug cartel of Joaquín Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”). The weapons were bought legally in Phoenix, Ariz., then taken to El Paso, Tex., and smuggled across the border to Ciudad Juárez.

Fast and Furious was an effort by the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to catch suspected gun smugglers by letting rifles “walk” after they were purchased instead of arresting the purchasers immediately. The intent was to trace the smugglers’ activities, but ATF agents lost track of some 2,000 weapons, which apparently got into Mexico. Officials assume the drug cartels received most of them and that the weapons have been used in the fighting that has led to some 40,000 deaths in the last five years. “These Fast and Furious guns were going to Sinaloans, and they are killing everyone down there,” an unidentified “US government source” told the Los Angeles Times. About 100 weapons seem to have gone through El Paso. “But that’s only how many we know came through Texas,” the source said. “Hundreds more had to get through.” (LAT, Oct. 8)

Meanwhile, ammunition is apparently even easier to buy and to smuggle than assault rifles. While ammunition sales are strictly regulated in Mexico, there are few limits in the US. The 1968 Federal Gun Control Act required ammunition sellers to be licensed and to keep a log of all ammunition sales, but these restrictions were eliminated in the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act. Many states regulate ammunition sales to some extent, but a few, including Arizona, have virtually no regulation. Federal agents seized 95,416 rounds of ammunition at Arizona’s six ports of entry along the Mexican border in the last fiscal year. The ammunition in Mexico is “all coming from the US,” Jose Wall, a senior ATF trafficking agent in Phoenix, told USA Today. “I can’t remember where I’ve seen ammunition from anywhere but the US.” (USA Today, Oct. 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 9.

See our last post on Mexico’s drug wars and the regional arms traffic.