Mexican drug cartels reinforce their fire power

A report released by WOLA and VPC states that many of the guns trafficked to Mexico from the United States are not manufactured in the U.S., but in places like Romania and Bulgaria.

From the beginning of this administration and until June 2015, Mexico's Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) seized 19,848 arms, all for the exclusive use of the armed forces. (Photo: Archive/El Universal)
English 24/01/2016 13:15 Actualizada 13:15
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By Doris Gómora, Marcos Muédano and Dennis García

Official reports of the U.S. government and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) revealed that over the last years Mexican cartels improved their fire power, and that 70% of their weapons come from the United States.

From the beginning of this administration and until June 2015, Mexico's Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) seized 19,848 arms, all for the exclusive use of the armed forces. Most of the weapons were seized in Chihuahua, Baja California, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Guerrero, State of Mexico, Sonora and Nuevo León.

Experts consulted in the United States and Mexico warned that drug traffickers have become more selective and seek the ultimate power in their arsenal. Almost 60% of their weapons are .223 caliber rifles, a civilian version of the M16 of the U.S. Army and AK47 or the so-called "goat horns."

A research report entitled “Gun-running nation. How Foreign-Made Assault Weapons are Trafficked from the United States to Mexico and What to Do About It” released in July 2015 by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Violence Policy Center (VPC) states that “a significant number of firearms that are recovered in Mexico come from the United States, but are not U.S.-manufactured; they are first imported, principally from Romania."

“Many of the guns trafficked to Mexico from the United States are not actually manufactured here; such guns, primarily AK- 47 variants, come from places like Romania and Bulgaria,” the report explains.

Another report entitled “U.S. Efforts to Combat Firearms Trafficking to Mexico Have Improved, but Some Collaboration Challenges Remain” released in January 2016 by the United States Government Accountability Office states that according to ATF data, of the 104,850 firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted for tracing from 2009 to 2014, there were 73,684, or 70 percent, found to have originated in the United States.

"About 17 percent of the total, 17,544 firearms, were traced to a country other than the United States." It added that from 2009 to 2014, after the United States the top five countries of origin of firearms seized in Mexico and traced were Spain (3,786), China (3,027), Italy (2,186), Germany (1,522), and Romania (1,287).

According to a RAND Corporation report, besides trafficking billions of dollars’ worth of narcotics into the United States annually, the criminal activity of Mexican drug cartels now extends to other areas, including human trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering, extortion, bribery, racketeering, and weapons trafficking. The cartels require a constant supply of firearms and ammunition to assert control over the territory where they operate, eliminate rival criminals, enforce illicit business dealings, and resist government operations.

According to Mexican law enforcement officials interviewed for the report, Mexican cartels prefer high caliber weapons with greater firepower, including high caliber rifles or long guns, and military grade equipment. Officials explained that the firearms of choice for drug traffickers are high caliber assault rifles, such as AK type and AR 15 type, which are available for purchase in the United States and which can be converted to fully automatic fire (i.e., converted into machine guns). Officials also noted that in recent years they have seen Mexican cartels acquire military equipment, such as .50 caliber machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenade launchers.

According to data provided by ATF, almost half of all firearms seized in Mexico and traced in the last 5 years were long guns. From 2009 through 2014, 49,566 long guns—rifles and shotguns—were seized and traced. During that same period, 53,156 short guns—including revolvers and pistols—were seized and traced.

Most of the firearms seized in Mexico that were traced and found to be of U.S. origin from 2009 to 2014 came from U.S. Southwest border states. While guns seized in Mexico of U.S. origin were traced to all of the 50 states, most came from Texas, California, and Arizona. 

“Mexican criminal groups import weapons from the United States, Central America or Asia, that have increased their capacity to face Mexico's Army,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, researcher at the University of Columbia.

“Seven years ago I said that drug cartels would start bringing planes and helicopters down, that they would expand their logistic capability to such an extent that they would be able to fight with Mexico's federal government on an equal basis, and this has already happened,” he added.

Eduardo Vázquez, adviser to the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism of the Organization of American States, said that Mexican cartels buy weapons from Europe, Africa, Asia and Central America, but mainly from the United States. 


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