Finding themselves knee deep in a drug war that has claimed over 30,000 lives and will soon unremittingly enter its fifth year, a growing number of Mexican politicians are pointing their fingers squarely at their neighbor north of the Rio Grande as the true progenitor of the country’s intensifying violence.
Lead by Mexican Senator Sebastian Calderon Centeno, these politicos view their country’s current situation (tantamount to a civil war which has seen seven major drug cartels forget old grievances to take on Government security forces) as the loathsome side effect of U.S. appetite and conduct. Their rationale: Mexico’s war is powered by U.S. demand for narcotics, is undertook with guns bought legally at U.S. gun shops and, as an aspect of both these illegal trades, is subsidized by drug cartels with US dollars.
During a meeting at the chamber of the Mexican Senate, Centeno accused the United States of complacency in their efforts to limit their population’s dug habit and in their ability to halt the stream of guns across its southern border. The senator and his supporters subscribe to what has become, at least in the states, a controversial theory that most of the guns that end up in the hands of Mexican gangsters are bought legally in the bordering states of Texas, Arizona and California and even in farther away states that enforce laxer gun laws.
Centeno punctuated his senate floor tirade with the incendiary accusation that the U.S. has little incentive to stop the smugglers. “This is a growing business in the U.S. They are in the gun sales business, and it doesn’t benefit them to stop.”
No one is denying there has been an influx of deadly combat weapons into Mexico evidenced by seizures and more colloquially by the rise in both the intensity of violence and the boldness of attacks. From 2006 to 2008, most drug traffickers would flee into the countryside when confronted by security forces. Now cartel squads fire rockets, throw grenades and spray security forces with sophisticated assault weapons loaded with armor piercing 7.62 NATO rounds. Post engagement police reports show that cartel commandos have 10 times the ammunition as peacekeepers do and Mexican experts like to throw around the statistic that 90 percent of semi-automatic rifles originate in the United States.
Critics of this theory claim that the US’s role in gun smuggling is highly exaggerated because most, if not all, of the registered and therefore traceable guns recovered in Mexico are of US origin. They contest further that the majority of weapons, which do not bear any identifying markings and are not linked to databases, are most likely from central and South American munitions caches.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Central America saw a series of civil wars which left countries like Guatemala and even Mexico awash with secret stockpiles of weapons, especially grenades. Authorities report that explosives are being used much more frequently.
There is no doubt however that some of the guns used to fight Mexico’s war enter from the north, particularly as more exotic weapons such as Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifles begin popping up in field reports and cartel raids. William G. McMahon, the deputy assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in charge of the Southwest border expressed deep concern about the mammoth caliber Barret.
“The .50-calibers are of growing concern. The cartels are looking at them as an anti-personnel weapon. We’ve actually seen them mounted on the backs of pickup trucks.”
Meanwhile, reprimands are coming from within US borders as well. Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, also vocally and specifically cited lax American gun laws as the impetus for the escalating conflict in Mexico. The ambassador publicly said the U.S. “could do more to limit the sale of weapons” that eventually end up in the hands of the cartels and believes sustained international cooperation is the only chance Mexico has at wading out of the drug and gun entrenched quagmire it finds itself in.
In a call to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Sarukhan articulated, “The founding fathers didn’t draft the Second Amendment to allow international organized crime to A: illicitly buy weapons in gun shops and gun shows; B: illicitly cross them over an international border; and C: sell them to individuals of a country where those calibers or types of weapons are prohibited,”
Though more tempered, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has also expressed his desire for a more visible U.S. to crack down on weapons heading south.
Military controlled warehouse on the outskirts of Mexico City house the trophies of cartel seizures. The contents of these warehouse run the gamut form South African anti-materiel rockets to gaudy 1911s inlaid with jewels and bearing the images of cougars and saints.
And recent gun seizures stateside also offer glimmers of hope. Last summer, following an anonymous lead, Texas officials in Laredo took two men into custody and seized a vehicle loaded with weapons including 147 assault rifles and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. By all indication, the guns were headed for Mexico.