Arms trafficking, also known as gunrunning, is the trafficking of contraband weapons and ammunition. What constitutes legal trade in firearms varies widely, depending on local and national laws. This is the first part of a series of an investigation conducted and originally published by news.vice.com media outlet, in which this criminal activity is exposed. The Yucatan Times presents this series, unveiling the large quantities of arms are being transferred from the United States to the developing world.
On the evening of October 11, the police station received an emergency call alerting of a fight in one of the “unfriendly neighborhoods” in Mexico City. This capital is much like a monster of almost 9 million inhabitants and 1,500 square kilometers, where many “forbidden” territories are highly dangerous areas where even the authorities fear to trespass.
According to a resident who witnessed a street fight that took place at the “Valle Gómez” neighborhood, just 10 minutes away from infamous “Tepito“, better known as the “brave neighborhood” (El Barrio Bravo de “Tepito”), and one of Mexico’s capital more dangerous areas. Thousands of stories have been written and told about “Tepito” (usually involving violence and delinquency), either to mythologize or demystify it. However, the community of “Valle Gómez” has also gain a reputation in relation to homicides, assaults, shootings and drug dealing. This site can be considered as an extension of “Tepito”.
At that moment, the mission of the police was to find those responsible for the alleged quarrel, and therefore, the law enforcement agents started a security operation in the streets of “Valle Gómez”. One of the peculiarities of this “Colonia“, are the many altars that can be seen scattered around the streets, dedicated to either the Virgin of Guadalupe or the “Santa Muerte”.
Suddenly, police officers discovered something that seems suspicious: two abandoned luxury cars at the corner of “Topia” and “Vanadio” Streets. These vehicles could well cost more than several houses of this neighborhood.
That’s when reinforcements were called in order to start a routine search of the area, an operation that involves at least thirty of forty well-equipped agents with automatic weapons, helmets, bulletproof vests and hi-tech communication equipment.
Residents are standing at their doorsteps watching the movements of the uniformed police officers, who suddenly discover in the backseat of one of the luxury vehicles (a BMW SUV): two assault rifles, weapons that by law cannot be carried by a citizens.
Actually, Mexico has one of the most stringent laws on possession of firearms. In fact, there is only one place in the country where people can buy a gun, it’s a warehouse that depends exclusively on the Mexican Army, in which different kind of arms can be legally purchased.
But despite this situation, there are more than 15 million arms circulating throughout the country and 85 percent of them are illegal, according to a report issued by the Mexican Congress (Camara de Diputados); and now two of those illegal weapons have just been found inside the BMW.
“This is actually a highly dangerous area… Just a couple of days ago, law enforcement agents picked up a truck with a good number of Kalashnikov’s AK-47 rifles (cuernos de chivo), that were just about to be delivered to buyers in “Valle Gómez”, but were confiscated by the police”, says “Chester”.
Chester: is the fictitious name a drug dealer chose to protect his identity. He is a man of a few words. His voice sounds unconcerned like he has never done anything illegal in his whole life. Although, the truth is that this individual has a long criminal record, and if he gets caught, he could be sentenced to spend a really long time behind bars.
At first glance, “Valle Gómez” seems to be a lower middle-class neighborhood like many others in Mexico City, although as it usually happens in many urban areas of this city, there are notorious differences between one house and another. At “Valle Gómez” it’s not rare to see a house with dozens of bullet perforations on the walls, right next to a smaller shack completely corroded by the time, and then the house next door is twice as big as the other two together, visibly well preserved and in much better conditions than the rest of the properties in the same street.
The protection fences, wire mesh, barred windows, and security cameras facing the streets are proof that not even the locals are safe from the prevailing insecurity. In that sense, surveillance has been reinforced in “Valle Gómez”, but ingenious drug dealers are still stashing and disguising their merchandise in the least expected places such as their dogs’ collars.
“However, criminals take precautions in order not to raise suspicions, constantly changing their points of sale to different places they consider “safe”. -says Chester-.
The conversation is taking place inside a patio, with walls showing bullet impacts; and “Chester” explains that in this property, buyers test the weapons to make sure that they work OK. Chester is very clear when he says that: “There are ten or fifteen of us who sell waepons in this neighbrohood, we all know and respect each other”. And then he makes a disturbing confession: “The Police is totally aware of this situation and in fact, they play an important role in this business”.
– What is the most expensive weapon you have sold?
– The ‘cuernos de chivo‘ (goat’s horns) [name given in Mexico to assault Kalashinikov AK-47 automatic and semi-automatic rifles] … because they are the most difficult to ‘sell’.
– How much do you sell them for?
– About $30,000 pesos [1,480 USD] each, but we can give you a better price by the dozen.
– And the gun you have in your hands right now?
– This is a a .380 Smith & Wesson… this one is $18,000 pesos [$ 888 USD]
“Is this the price you usually offer it?”
– “Yes, I know that this is more or less the price a regular customer is willing to pay for a gun like this. First I show the client a photograph, and if he is interested; it’s just a matter of coming to the neighborhood, try it, make sure it works OK and that’s it”.
This week, Chester has only one gun left, although he already received a down payment for it… in a few hours he will deliver it to its new owner.
Mexico City currently has been a strategic point for the purchase and sale of illegal weapons used by all kinds of criminal groups, from the common thief to the more structured organized crime groups dedicated to kidnapping, or high scale drug trafficking.
According to data from the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), a total of 12,781 weapons were seized between 2006 and 2014 in México City. And the country’s capital is followed by Baja California, Michoacán and Jalisco, all states with heavy drug trafficking activity.
In the same period of time, a total of 1,717,948 cartridges, 180,706 clips, 98,664 explosives, 45,883 weapon accessories and 381 hand grenades were also secured in México City’s Metropolitan Area, and in spite of all this, the business continues.
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