The shadow of gun violence past and present hangs over the people in México: the national pain of the unsolved murders of 43 students in 2014, the 95 murders per day in 2019. Do you see a connection between the arms trade and the horrific statistics?
John Lindsay-Poland: Hundreds of thousands of weapons manufactured in the US, Israel, Austria, Italy, and Belgium are pouring into México. The police who disappeared the Ayotzinapa students had assault rifles from the United States, Germany, and Italy. The terrible growth of homicides, disappearances, forced displacement, and other violence in México directly correlates with this massive influx of firearms, primarily from the United States. Collusion between the state and criminal organizations and militarized strategies for fighting crime have deepened the violence.
Who’s buying all these weapons?
The legal trade is entirely between these manufacturers and the Mexican army, the only legally authorized importer and seller of firearms in México. The army then sells firearms to federal, state, and municipal police. In fact, México concentrates more control over the acquisition, production, licensing, registration, sale, distribution, and recovery of weapons into a single institution — the army — than any other country in the world.
The drug cartels appear to be as heavily armed as the military. How do they get their weapons?
The U.S. retail gun market offers military weaponry perfect for criminal groups in México that compete to control territory, “la plaza,” to increase their revenues. And border controls based on white supremacist ideas and structures focus on control of the South-to-North movements of people and goods, so it’s easy to buy assault weapons and other guns in Texas and Arizona — states that have few controls on firearms — and get them south across the border. These make up 70 percent of illicit firearms recovered in México.
The evidence that former Mexican army chief general Salvador Cienfuegos was collaborating with a criminal cartel strongly suggests that ties between the military (the legal procurers of weapons) and criminal organizations (the principal buyers of weapons) go from top to bottom. The new resources and authority that the current Mexican government has conferred on the army make it even more difficult to hold army officers implicated in such collusion accountable.
What are human rights activists like those in your organization, Stop US Arms To México, advocating that US activists do?
We urge the United States, Europe, and Israel to stop all weapons exports to México until there are comprehensive controls in place that prevent these arms from going to state forces that violate human rights or collude with organized crime.
The United States has an important role in stopping illegal gun trafficking. The incoming Biden administration can take executive action to stop European imports of assault weapons into the United States, many of which find their way to México. Communities in México suffer more homicides from U.S.-sourced, trafficked guns than the entire United States does. These communities need to be visible and part of policy making in the United States. We need to hear the stories of the so many Mexicans — and migrants in México — who’ve paid the price for the ease with which military-grade weapons are bought and sold in the United States.
You can learn more and join us at stopusarmstomexico.org.