As Mexico’s relentless militarization continues to whet appetites: in the last decade, the United Kingdom increased its arms export licenses and included Mexico in its list of “priority countries for arms exports”.
MEXICO CITY (Proceso) – During Peña Nieto’s six-year term, Sedena – under the command of Salvador Cienfuegos – imported more than 110,000 weapons and sold them, among others, to corporations involved in human rights violations.
The criminal groups, for their part, were not left behind. Under the command of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda during the six-year term of Enrique Peña Nieto, the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena) was a good ally of the global arms industry. It imported and sold 110,696 firearms to state and local police throughout the country, including corporations responsible for serious human rights violations, such as those involved in the forced disappearance of the 43 normalistas of Ayotzinapa.
Criminal organizations did not sit idly by: every hour, some thirty firearms entered Mexico via the U.S. border – a total of between 2.2 and 3 million weapons in the last ten years – and they also recovered part of the more than 15,000 weapons that various Mexican authorities reported as “stolen” or “lost” in the last 15 years.
Between January 2015 and October 2020, at least 114,143 people died from firearms in Mexico. Another 60,743 were injured by bullets, according to statistics reported by the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP). Guns killed seven out of every ten people involved in violent deaths in the country.
While destroying stocks and trapping Mexico in a spiral of horror for more than 14 years, the “war against drug trafficking” declared by former President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa generates big business for the transnational arms companies of the United States, Europe, and Israel, which supply the actors of violence with increasingly powerful and sophisticated weapons, and thousands of tons of ammunition that feed them.
F.N. Herstal alone, Belgium’s leading arms company owned by the Walloon government, has sold 102 million euros of arms to Mexico since 2008, including 50 million euros in the last five years.
The dozens of shipments it has sent include 4,197 Minimi machine guns and 748 M2HB .5-caliber machine guns. One of its products, the FN Five-seveN, is used by both security forces and criminal groups, who dubbed it “the cop killer.
Both Sedena and the companies distributed weapons knowing that the police who would use them had a history of human rights violations and collusion with organized crime groups. According to this research, published in the Cartel Project framework, a project carried out by 60 journalists from 25 media outlets in 18 countries around the world, including Proceso, and coordinated by Forbidden Stories.
In Mexico, the most dangerous country globally to practice journalism, at least 86 firearms have killed journalists in the last 20 years. This dismal list includes Miroslava Breach Velducea (Chihuahua), Javier Valdez Cárdenas (Sinaloa) or, recently, Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas (Sonora), Arturo Alba Medina (Chihuahua) or Israel Vázquez, in Salamanca (Guanajuato).
At least two journalists, José Armando Rodríguez Carreón and Jaime Guadalupe González Domínguez, killed in 2008 and 2013 in the Chihuahua municipalities of Ciudad Juaŕez and Ojinaga, respectively, were killed by European-made weapons.
Israel Vázquez was murdered last November 9; he was about to make a live link to report on the discovery of human remains in the boulevard Villa Salamanca. State authorities arrested alleged hitmen and confiscated several weapons, including rifles manufactured by companies from the United States, Israel, Turkey, and Germany.
Control of the Sedena
In Mexico, Sedena has absolute control over the legal arms trade in the country: it is the only body authorized to produce, import, and keep a record of arms; it is also the only body that can sell them to police corporations, private companies and individuals; and it has a monopoly on issuing permits.
“No other nation in the world concentrates so much authority for the acquisition, distribution, and control of arms in a single military institution,” stated the Lethal Trade report, published today by a group of Mexican and international organizations and shared exclusively with Forbidden Stories.
Sedena should inform the armament companies about each weapon’s destiny; for this purpose, it prepares a document called End-User Certificate. The organization Stops U.S. Arms to Mexico – which advocates for the cessation of arms trafficking between the United States and Mexico – analyzed 9,000 receipts and end-user certificates prepared by Sedena.
It found that the agency often fails to meet its obligations: of the 205,340 weapons purchased from European companies between 2008 and 2018, Sedena only delivered 44,293 certificates, less than a quarter. Thus, Sedena did not deliver a single certificate about the 28,156 Beretta guns it sold to different police forces between 2014 and 2018. They did so, although the Italian company sent material to Sinaloa, Jalisco, and Guerrero.
And not only this: John Lindsay Poland, the director of Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico, tells Forbidden Stories that often Sedena lies in the end-user certificates it gives to authorities in other countries because it “systematically” states that the weapon will be destined to the army, “even when these weapons will end up in the hands of local and state police,” including the states of Guerrero, Veracruz, Tamaulipas or Chihuahua, which have restrictions on obtaining weapons in several countries.
“The arrest of Cienfuegos, along with other evidence we have, suggests that corruption in the arms trade in Mexico is systemic.” Says the expert, about the general last October’s arrest in Los Angeles, on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering that the prosecutor’s office, with information from the DEA, charged him with.
After intense and unprecedented lobbying by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the charges and sent the military man back to Mexico, free. According to the DEA, Cienfuegos was working hand in hand with a cell of the Beltrán Leyva cartel in Nayarit, under the nickname “El Padrino” (The Godfather).
The arms race
Although Mexico has one of the strictest legal frameworks in the world regarding arms and that there is only one store in the entire country – near the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense – the country is a central player in the multi-million dollar arms sales business, and therefore a source of income for the transnational arms companies.
The “war on drugs” unleashed an unbridled arms race in Mexico, involving criminal organizations and security forces. Thus, the Mexican government bought about 123 million dollars of arms from U.S. companies between 2015 and 2017, while arms companies based in Europe and Israel sent more than 238,000 weapons to Mexico’s state and municipal police between 2006 and 2018.
According to the organization Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico, between 2006 and 2018, Beretta sold 108,000 weapons to Mexico – for more than $50 million -, Glock (Austria) another 68,000, IWI (Israel) more than 24,000, Colt (United States) sent more than 21,000 and Heckler & Koch more than 19,000.
In April 2020, the German company Sig Sauer sent a batch of 50,000 pistols – assembled in its U.S. factory – for the National Guard, the security force created by the government of the so-called Fourth Transformation; in March 2015, the same company received a green light from the U.S. government to export $266 million worth of arms to Mexico, destined for the Secretary of the Navy (Semar) until February 2024.
Apart from American AR-15 or A.K. type weapons, criminal groups use a wide variety of automatic and semi-automatic rifles: Thus, during the counterattack launched by members of the Sinaloa Cartel on October 17, 2019, to thwart the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, a Belgian F.N. Herstal machine gun, a US M72 LAW anti-armour rocket launcher, Romanian-made AK model rifles, as well as pistols made by Beretta, an Italian brand, and Glock, an Austrian brand, were observed.
The country’s relentless militarization continues to whet appetites: in the last decade, the United Kingdom increased its arms export licenses sixfold – from 58 in 2008 to 350 in 2017 – and the British government included Mexico in its list of “priority countries for arms exports.
Mexican authorities have confiscated 166,401 firearms between 2010 and 2020. According to the statistical annex of the Second Government Report, from which the data is taken, a constant drop was observed in the number of weapons secured during that period. From 40,406 secured in 2011, it fell to barely 7,532 in 2019.
The vast majority of the 2 to 3 million rifles and pistols illegally entering Mexico in the last decade are still circulating. Seven out of every ten weapons circulating clandestinely in Mexico come from the United States, and the remaining 30% were from companies in other countries, mainly Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austria, Russia, Romania, and Israel.
Since last year, the Lopez Obrador government has reiterated before Washington the need to intensify its efforts to seriously combat arms trafficking, reciprocity with Mexico’s collaboration in the fight against drug trafficking and immigration matters.
In fact, during a recent meeting with senior U.S. officials, Luis Cresencio Sandoval, the Department of Homeland Security’s current head, expressed his irritation at Washington’s inaction.
According to the Washington Post, in an investigation into the trafficking of the devastating .50-caliber rifles, published on November 19, General Sandoval asked his U.S. interlocutors, “What would happen if we made as little effort to stop drugs as you do to stop guns?
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