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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

US Border Crossers: Guns

from the Dec. 8, 2021 Bulletin

guns & violence foreign relations

Back in the 1980s, accompanying — and getting to know — courageous activists risking their lives to gain justice in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Colombia changed the course of John Lindsay-Poland’s life. He’s dedicated himself ever since to working to free all people from the fear of violence. Lindsay-Poland is currently working on research that connects militarization and human rights abuses and organizing to demilitarize US policy in Latin America. He coordinates the Stop US Arms to México campaign, a project of Global Exchange.

When did the era of gun violence in México begin — and why?


John Lindsay-Poland: Between 2004 and 2010, a toxic cocktail of issues changed the pattern of gun violence in México. First, market dynamics shifted. The international narcotics business had been centered in the Andes, but the drug wars there shoved much of that industry — including synthetic drug production — to México.


Second, beginning in 2007, Presidents Calderon and Bush jointly declared a “War on Drugs,” using military strategies to stop drug trafficking. Third, since the drug trade is illegal, the only way to resolve disputes is through violence. And lastly, in 2004, the ban on assault weapons in the US expired. The subsequent sales and trafficking to México of ever more deadly weapons led to an internal arms race between cartels competing for territory — and between the cartels and government forces.


What strategy did the “War on Drugs,” officially the Mérida Initiative, follow?

The War on Drugs initially followed a military and police strategy aimed at taking out the drug kingpins through massive US support. That backfired, because taking out the head of a cartel triggered violent competition between the factions wanting to take the kingpin’s place and because so many government forces were colluding with criminal organizations.

The Mérida Initiative, since 2008, has weighed in at $3.3 billion. Last month the US and México put this Initiative to bed, with both nations agreeing that it had been a failure. Will this end to Mérida mean a reduction in the arms flowing into México?


No. The Mérida aid money, already by 2010, had begun to shift away from a military strategy. But Mérida was never about giving México firearms anyway. The support came more in the form of surveillance assistance, training, helicopters, and other equipment.


Now, Mérida and assistance with military gear are not so much the problem. It’s arms sales. Mérida money went through the State Department. But Pentagon assistance doesn’t require congressional review and continues to be significant. We also have private commercial sales. The gun manufacturer Sig Sauer has a $5.5-million license to sell automatic rifles to the Mexican navy, a program currently put on hold by Congress.


US weapons from all these various sources have turned up in many extrajudicial killings, including the disappearance — by government forces — of 43 rural teachers college students at Ayotzinapa in 2014. The truth is, when guns go to México, we don’t know who the end users will be, whose fingers will pull the trigger.

Do you see improvements since AMLO became president?


It’s discouraging. AMLO has given unprecedented authority to the military. He’s put the military in control of ports and construction projects. He created a new National Guard focused on migrant control, with soldiers who carry Sig Sauer semi-automatic weapons. A single institution — the army — now has authority in Mexico over most everything gun-related, from arms manufacture and gun imports to confiscated weapons and sales to police and private entities. The army even controls the gun registry, with no civilian oversight to any of this.

We’ve also seen almost no progress on serious human rights cases involving the military, most notably the forced disappearances in Ayotzinapa and Nuevo Laredo.


That said, we do see an encouraging development. In August 2021, México’s Foreign Relations Ministry filed suit in a Boston court against eleven US gun manufacturers for their role in gun proliferation. It’s easy to buy U.S. guns in states like Texas and Arizona, and it’s not hard to transport them illegally into México. The suit seeks to reform how gun companies market their products, how they, for example, hype the military qualities of their guns in sales to retail markets.


México also is asking for damages over the horrendous number of unnecessary deaths. Within the US, laws prevent victims of, say, a tragedy like Sandy Hook from suing the gun manufacturers involved. México is arguing that crimes committed in Mexican territory don’t fall under those laws.


This Mexican position represents a breakthrough. For once, government officials are putting forward a solution that doesn’t focus on border security! We know all too well that the vast majority of drugs and guns won’t be stopped once they make it to the border.


What’s helping your organization — as your name puts it — “Stop US Arms to Mexico?


México’s lawsuit is bringing new attention to the role of gun companies in both the US and México. And another Mexican initiative — #PazSinArmas, Peace without Arms — is bringing together a dynamic new coalition of people from various sectors, including activists working on gender violence, human rights, and migration. In the US Congress, interest in controlling gun exports to México is growing.


Everyone fighting for gun violence prevention in the United States needs to know that guns made or sold in the US are leading to more gun homicides in México than in the US itself. Solidarity across borders isn’t just possible, it’s essential to end the scourge of gun violence that’s plaguing us all.