Murder is on the rise in Latin America. In Ecuador, after a large decrease in homicides until 2016, murder rates increased from 6 to 15 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021 and to 26 in 2022. In Jamaica, homicide rates approached 50, while in Honduras they were estimated at 36 in 2022 (for reference, the US homicide rate is 6).
A primary factor behind this epidemic of gun violence is the diversion and illicit trafficking of arms small arms and light weapons (SALW) throughout the region. These weapons were responsible for more than 57% of homicides in Latin America in 2018, according to the Small Arms Survey. But where do they come from and how can the illegal arms trade be stopped?
Latin America and the Caribbean is not a large market for the transfer of conventional military arms. Over the last five years, international arms transfers have decreased in South America, although Brazil experienced a 48% increase in its imports between 2017 and 2022. SOnly a few countries in the region are producers of SALW and ammunition, such are Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico.
(Read: Relatives of victims and NGOs accuse Boluarte of stigmatizing protesters in Peru)
In addition, the region has stricter regulations for civilian gun possession than the United States. This is particularly true of military-style weapons, such as the AR-15 rifle, which is often used by Mexican drug cartels. Most countries require licenses to purchase guns, with requirements that include psychological evaluations and criminal record checks, and also place limits on the number and types of guns that regular citizens can purchase.
But despite these regulations, millions of weapons circulate in the region with devastating effects. In 2018 it was estimated that more than 60 million firearms were in the hands of civilians in the region, legally and illegally. Approximately 8.8 million SALW are in the possession of law enforcement and the military.
In Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico there are more unregistered than registered weapons. And in Argentina and Brazil, the number of unregistered weapons is similar to that of registered ones. While it has become more difficult to determine the number of firearms owned by private security companies in the region. In 2015, the Regional Center for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (Unlirec) and the Dcaf Center estimated a conservative number of 600,000.
Illegal weapons in the region come from various sources. At the end of the civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, thousands of weapons remained unregistered, which fueled a black market in Central America. Most analysts agree that one of the main sources of arms trafficked to the region is the United States, particularly to Mexico.
(You may be interested: Lasso says that with the ‘cross death’ he closes a crisis chapter in Ecuador)
It is estimated that more than 200,000 weapons are purchased in the United States each year and trafficked to Mexico. through “fictitious buyers” who buy weapons in shops or gun fairs. In the Caribbean, a recently published study by the Small Arms Survey and the Crime and Security Implementation Agency shows that most of the firearms responsible for rising levels of violence and homicides in countries like Jamaica and Haiti are trafficked from the United States via shipping companies and commercial airlines.
deviation The illegal market also occurs through forged end-user certificates with the complicity of corrupt officials. This was the case of the more than 7,000 AK-47s purchased from Bulgaria by the Colombian AUC in 1999, or the 3,000 AK-47s and ammunition purchased by a Nicaraguan company and subsequently diverted to Colombian paramilitary groups.
With more frenquency, the diversion occurs from the official warehouses of the military and security forces. Documented cases in Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, and Venezuela show that corruption in the military or security forces has played a large role in facilitating the diversion of legally purchased weapons to organized criminal groups operating in the region.
Finally, weapons diversion also occurs from private security companies that have proliferated in recent years due to the deteriorating security situation in most of the countries of the region. According to data from the Brazilian Federal Police, more than 12,000 weapons were stolen or considered missing from the warehouses of private security companies between 2017 and 2021.
(More: ‘Ecuador lives the times of Pablo Escobar in Colombia’, what is happening?)
The millions of illegal weapons circulating in the region and the persistent trafficking between countries and from the United States have allowed the expansion of the activities of criminal organizations, and have made their activities even more violent. Drug trafficking, for example, is inevitably linked to rising levels of armed violence in the region.
However, the militarization of public security in Mexico and Brazil, for example, has not yielded positive results, since the drug cartels and other criminal groups have only strengthened their firepower against the State. As drug trafficking organizations expand or move their operations to other countries, armed violence is likely to increase. This is evident in the case of Ecuador and many Caribbean nations in recent years.
Arms trafficking not only intensifies crime and violence, it also affects development economy, political stability and the daily lives of millions of people in the region. The Inter-American Development Bank estimated that the direct costs of crime for 17 countries in the region in 2010-2014 averaged 3% of the region’s GDP, which is equivalent to what the region spends annually on infrastructure. It is very likely that these costs would be higher today if the same variables were measured again.
(Also: Daniel Ortega: the controversial night arrests against opponents in Nicaragua)
What are the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean doing to control the illicit arms trade? Since the late 1990s, the region’s leaders have sought to strengthen efforts to control and combat this phenomenon.
Most of the countries in the region have committed to numerous agreements, including the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials (Cifta) and more recently, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
These agreements call for concrete actions, such as establish national control systems, regulate firearms dealers and brokers, mark and trace firearms, implement diversion prevention measures, and regional and international cooperation to investigate and prosecute those involved in illicit trafficking.
In most countries, regional and international organizations have endorsed the destruction of surplus weapons. In Argentina, 40,000 weapons were destroyed between 2020 and 2022, adding a total of more than 400,000 since 2000.
International cooperation between Interpol and law enforcement across the region recently resulted in the arrest of approximately 14,000 people and the seizure of 8,263 illicit firearms, as well as 305,000 rounds of ammunition. In 2021, in a similar operation, 4,000 suspects were arrested and more than 200,000 illicit firearms, parts, components and ammunition were seized. Between 2016 and 2020, around 425,000 illicit weapons were seized across the region.
(More: Russia announces the shipment of “humanitarian” military equipment to the Nicaraguan Army)
But despite efforts to increase the number of weapons seized each year, more needs to be done. AlreadySome governments are taking novel measures to address the problem.
In 2021, the Government of Mexico filed a lawsuit in a United States federal court against several manufacturers of American guns, including Smith & Wesson, Colt and Glock. The appeal seeks to hold these companies accountable for the role their weapons allegedly played in fostering drug-related violence in Mexico.
Although the case was dismissed in 2022, Mexico filed an appeal. States of the Caribbean Community have also taken steps to address illicit arms trafficking by proposing prohibit public use of assault weapons.
There are other measures that governments can and should take to tackle arms trafficking. Improve weapons depot security, conduct more weapons destruction, enforce marking and tracing and updating record keeping systems are some actions. Information sharing in regional and international forums and improved border controls to stop arms smuggling could also help. But without a comprehensive approach to the problem that reduces the overall demand for arms, our region will likely remain the most violent in the world.
Expert in international security and arms control. She currently leads the ATT Monitor project at Control Arms.
More In-Depth News
Ortega closes siege on Catholic Church in Nicaragua
#Arms #trafficking #confronting #reduce #violence #Latin #America