Latin American Leaders Demand Action on Illicit Arms Trafficking!

Latin America is the area south of the Rio Gra...

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At the close of the summit, the member countries issued a separate and special declaration (available in pdf format here) defining public security as a precondition for economic and social progress and calling for international cooperation, technical assistance and legislation to combat the illicit trafficking of weapons.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon also called on the international community to provide financial and technical assistance to the region and urged his counterparts in Latin America to strengthen legislative controls on the possession and use of firearms, ammunition and explosives.

These calls for a more regional approach to curbing arms trafficking were overshadowed by a controversial outburst from Ecuador’s president, the absence of 11 heads-of-state and the summit’s macro-economic themes.

But inside the summit walls, public security emerged as a top concern and representatives of a region struggling with high rates of violence and criminality used the platform to call for agreement on regulating the international arms trade. The surge in violent crime in Latin America has been particularly devastating to countries that have resources important to drug trafficking networks and relatively weak state institutions. Honduras, for example, is a transit country for the majority of cocaine smuggled out of South America and is on track to have the highest murder rate in the world.

A recent United Nations report (pdf available here) says that 31 percent of the estimated 468,000 intentional homicides committed around the world in 2010 occurred in the Americas. And firearms, which were used in 42 percent of violent deaths, “undoubtedly drive homicide increases in certain regions and, where they do, members of organized criminal groups are often those who pull the trigger,” according to the UN.

The ability of Latin American countries to control firearm availability certainly depends on international cooperation. Unfortunately, weapons transfers can take place on a relatively small scale without triggering attention from federal authorities. A variety of obstacles prevent stricter control over domestic guns sales in the U.S., such as powerful lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association and their congressional allies who block legislation that would tighten federal control over gun sales.

The availability of powerful assault weapons in the U.S. has likely had an effect on violence in the region. An analysis by blogger Diego de Valle illustrates how the expiration of the ban on assault weapons in the U.S. is correlated with rising homicide rates in the war against (and amongst) the drug cartels. Access to U.S. assault weapons may also be related to the rise in incidents of multiple homicides in Mexico.

The U.S. is an important player in controlling the circulation of illegal weapons in Mexico, but it is only one of many. According to arms expert Keith Krause, substantial quantities of weapons seized from Mexico’s criminals originate in Mexico or Central America. Honduras, for example, recently admitted that it cannot account for thousands of guns that disappeared from government warehouses. Many weapons that were funnelled to Central America to fight 20th century conflicts are still circulating today, fueling narcotics-related conflict in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.

But controlling this market is a tall order for any country or region. The illicit global market for small arms and light weapons (SALW) is estimated to be worth approximately $1 billion dollars annually. Trade flourishes in part because of a large gray market of legal guns that become illegal when they are lost or stolen from government stockpiles. Government weapons and ammunition stockpiles that are poorly monitored can be diverted to this gray market with little risk because, in the absence of a universal marking and tracking system, it is difficult to trace to a “legitimate” owner and hold that person accountable.

The long career of international arms dealer Victor Bout, and his eventual capture in a DEA sting explicitly demonstrates of the need for a global treaty on the weapons trade, according to Oxfam International. Despite significant evidence of Bout’s participation in illegal weapons sales, he was able to continue to sell guns and fuel conflict in the world’s worst war zones for two decades.

Currently, only 73 (out of 154) countries regulate trade in light weapons and, of those, only 56 have laws criminalizing their illicit transfer. The lack of a global treaty addressing the trade in SALW allows gun traffickers to avoid both arrest in countries that lack penalties and extradition to countries with comprehensive, enforceable laws.

Currently, commodities like bananas and electronics are highly regulated under international law, but there are no substantial agreements requiring states to monitor and restrict transfers of arms and ammunition around the globe.

This may change. A proposed global Arms Trade Agreement will be debated in the UN next year. And while it will not eliminate the illicit trade in guns, it can reduce the availability of military-grade weapons on the shadowy gray market and clarify the fuzzy boundaries between licit and illict trade in weapons responsible for hundreds of thousands violent deaths. It may also give Latin American and Caribbean governments a template for further regional and domestic action on this issue.

 

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Cartels and the related killings in Mexico! on the Rise?

More dead!

More Killings more graves!

Drug-related violence in Mexico has spiked in recent years as drug trafficking organisations have competed for control of smuggling routes into the United States.

Mexico has for at least four decades been among the most important producers and suppliers of heroin and marijuana to the US market.

Drug-related killings 2007-2011
2010: 19,546
2009: 11,753
2008: 6,837
2007: 2,826

The figures include the killings of gang members, police and troops, as well as innocent bystanders

A history of civil strife and instability, weak institutions, and staggering impunity make the region extremely vulnerable.

The northern triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in particular, already among the most violent nations in the world, have seen a marked rise in the operations of Mexican gangs and their affiliates.

In Guatemala, with a murder rate at least double that of Mexico’s, between 250 and 350 tonnes of cocaine are reported to pass through every year.

Almost five years since the government’s crackdown on drug gangs began the drug trafficking organisation’s have responded with escalating violence.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has deployed 80,000 troops to the streets to take on powerful drug traffickers shortly after taking office in December 2006.

In recent years, drug trafficking violence in Mexico has claimed thousands of lives and reached a level of intensity and ferocity that has exceeded previous periods of drug-related violence.

More than 35,000 people have been killed since Calderon launched a crackdown against drug gangs. However, human rights groups believe the actual number could be as high as 50,490.

At stake for the traffickers is an industry worth up to $39 billion a year, according to estimates by US officials, which is equivalent to almost 15 per cent of Mexico’s annual budge

human trafficking through the Americas

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Image via WikipediaModern day slavery routes

The United Nations estimates that human trafficking through the Americas represents a $7 billion per year business for organized criminal groups. They draw this money from the nearly three million people, mostly immigrants from the region moving north to the United States, who relocate every year, paying between $2,000 and $10,000 per trip.

The reasons for these migrations include economic hardship, political persecution, and family ties. These migrants have become vital providers for their families at home. Remittances sent from the United States to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala represent close to ten percent of the GDP of these three countries combined. Organized criminal gangs exploit these vulnerabilities. They extort entire families, sometime several times over several different borders, during one single trip. The gangs also sell their cargo into indentured servitude where they are virtually enslaved until they pay off their “debts.”

The massive trade in humans starts as far south as Argentina and almost always passes through Mexico. The entry points, while often well guarded, rarely change. They include Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. The migrants are often held in “safe-houses” on the U.S. side while relatives or friends pay off the remaining sums demanded by the traffickers. The vast majority – close to 90 percent – are from Mexico. Most of the rest come from Central America. These Central American migrants pay more money and face more obstacles en route, including criminal gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha 13, drug trafficking groups like the Zetas and corrupt police who kidnap and extort them during their journey. Still, the United Nations estimates that many of the migrant smuggling routes are still controlled by smaller, “mom and pop” operations.

Other migrants include Chinese who are trafficked through Latin America, most notably Colombia and the Darien Gap in Panama, on their way to the United States. Wealthier Asians are known to purchase false passports in places like Guatemala and Venezuela, which allow them to transit into European countries like Spain easier. Migrants are often used as mules to carry drugs and other contraband.

The Most Dangerous Gang in the World

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The Zetas, Mexico’s most feared and violent criminal organization, has moved operations to Guatemala. In the process, they have shifted the balance of power in the region, undermining and overwhelming Guatemala’s government and putting its neighbors in El Salvador and Honduras on high alert. They have also introduced a new way of operating. The Zetas are focused on controlling territory. In this they are the experts, creating a ruthless and intimidating force that is willing to take the fight to a new, often macabre level. Whoever becomes Guatemala’s new president will face this challenge with little resources and government institutions that have a history of working for criminal organizations of all types. In sum, the Zetas are a test for Guatemala and the rest of the region: fail this test, and Central America sinks deeper into the abyss.