Posts Tagged guns
Drug-related murders in Mexico doubled last year, to 6,200, as cartels fight for the American addict’s dollar while relying on American gun dealers for their weapons. A new report to Congress traces over 90 percent of guns recovered in Mexican drug crimes in the last three years back across the border, where legal and illegal American dealers flout federal laws rife with loopholes.
The findings contradict gun rights groups’ claims that foreign dealers are supplying the cartels’ arms. In fact, 70 percent of 20,000 weapons recovered were traced to legal gun shops and unregulated gun shows in Texas, California and Arizona, according to the Government Accountability Office report.
The report confirmed the arguments of Mexican officials who are pressing Washington for stricter gun controls. While the Obama administration has sketched a new strategy to combat gun trafficking, the report warns of considerable obstacles.
It found that the separate American agencies charged with controlling the sales of firearms and policing immigration are doing a poor job of sharing information and coordinating policy. Gun tracking software is yet to be translated into Spanish for full use by Mexican authorities. What is also clear is that the American gun dealers — 6,700 of them clustered along the border — are supplying increasingly powerful military style weapons as the cartel wars intensify.
America must finally act. Private home-based dealers and gun show armorers should finally be regulated as rampant threats to public safety. Congress must repeal restrictions that prevent a national gun registry and bar local enforcement agencies from sharing in federal tracing information.
The report underscores Washington’s political cowardice and the frightening cost, as the mayhem spreads south of the border and threatens to move northwards.
Apr 2nd 2009 | EL PASO AND MEXICO CITY
Senior American officials are trooping to Mexico with assurances of support in its drug war. Will warm words be backed up by action?
ARIZONA’S attorney-general, Terry Goddard, says he started to worry about American guns ending up in the hands of Mexican drug traffickers two years ago. That was after a meeting in Cuernavaca with Mexico’s attorney-general, Eduardo Medina Mora, who urged him and several of his counterparts from other American states to enforce the law banning the export of assault weapons that can be legally bought north of the border. Keen to help, Mr Goddard spent months building a case alleging that George Iknadosian, the owner of a Phoenix gun shop, had knowingly sold some 700 assault weapons to “straw men” working for the narcos. It could have been a landmark case. Mr Iknadosian pleaded not guilty, and last month a state judge threw out all the charges against him on a point of law. Prosecutors blamed a clash between federal and state law on arms smuggling.
This is just one example of how hard it will be for the United States to implement its promise to collaborate with Mexico in quelling drug-related violence. But Mexican officials are pleased that at least the promise has been made. During a two-day visit last month, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, admitted that America’s “insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade” and that “our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians” in Mexico.
Her visit was the clearest sign that the American administration has woken up to what is at stake in the battle unleashed by Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, against the drug “cartels”, in which 10,000 people have died since December 2006. She was to be followed on April 2nd by Janet Napolitano, the secretary for homeland security, and Eric Holder, the attorney-general. Barack Obama himself will drop in for talks with Mr Calderón before both attend the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad on April 17th.
“They finally started paying attention,” says Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador in Washington. That is partly because some Americans fear the violence is starting to spread northward, although such worries look exaggerated (see article). But it is also in part owing to a war of words that has raged across the border in recent weeks.
This began with a report in November from the United States Joint Forces Command bracketing Mexico and Pakistan as the two countries most at risk of becoming “failed states”. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, then told a Senate committee that the corruption and violence of the drug cartels was hindering the Mexican government from controlling part of its territory. Having largely ignored Mexico’s fight against the drug gangs for the past two years, American television has suddenly latched on to it, in sensationalist terms. Spurred on by his own media, Mr Calderón, by instinct an American ally, responded by accusing American officials of corrupt complicity in the drug trade.
So Mrs Clinton’s comments were welcomed in Mexico. As to whether the words will lead to practical co-operation, Mexican officials say they are getting more help with intelligence on the drug gangs from their American counterparts. But Mrs Clinton’s promise of Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican police was undercut by Congress’s pruning of funding for the Mérida Initiative, a plan under which Mexico was to receive $1.4 billion in aid over three years. American officials now say they will seek to reverse the cut. But more than aid, Mexico wants the Americans to crack down on drug consumption, as well as the movement of guns and money southward. That is where the big difficulties lie.
The Obama administration promises to send several hundred more agents to the border, both from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The idea is that they will search southbound traffic and railcars. Mr Calderón wants the Americans to tip off their Mexican counterparts about gun trafficking, and to curb gun sales. Mrs Clinton said she favours the reinstatement of a federal ban on selling semi-automatic “assault weapons” such as AK-47s. Mexican police claim that since the ban lapsed in 2004, the cartels have become much more powerfully armed: of 30,000 guns they have seized since December 2006, 15,000 are assault weapons, nearly all bought at the 7,500 or so gun shops on the American side of the border.
But the gun lobby opposes the ban. John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, said in El Paso this week that violence in Mexico is an argument for more assault weapons, not fewer: “Why would you disarm someone when they potentially could get caught in the crossfire?” He continued: “The United States will not surrender our second-amendment rights for Mexico’s border problem.”
Facing so many other battles, Mr Obama would surely prefer not to be drawn into this one. Mr Sarukhan says that merely enforcing existing gun laws would be a big help. For Mexico, too, there are dangers in framing its relations with the United States purely around security. Trade, economic integration and immigration are equally vital. For now, however, the drug war has captured the headlines in both countries, leaving the politicians with no choice but to respond.
By Ioan Grillo / Mexico City Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009
It was the last image the Mexican government wanted from one of its sunny seaside resorts. In the heart of Acapulco, soldiers fought a blazing battle against drug-cartel thugs who sprayed bullets from Kalashnikov rifles and hurled more than 50 grenades. After hours of the warlike scenario, 13 gunmen, two bystanders and two soldiers lay dead on the concrete. Worst of all, the shoot-out happened in the middle of a sweltering Saturday night less than 100 yards from Los Flamingos Hotel, which in its heyday saw Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller party until dawn.
Last weekend’s Acapulco firefight was the latest episode of close urban combat in Mexico as cartel militias fight one another and the government for the bounty of the drug trade. But its time and place could not have been more unfortunate. After tourism was shattered by the swine flu scare, Mexico just two weeks ago launched a campaign to try to lure holidaymakers back to its paradise beaches. Under the slogan “Vive México” (Long Live Mexico), the $90 million effort is using such stars as Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and soccer ace Rafael Márquez to show off the golden sands. But while Vive México has yet to have much international impact, the wild seaside shoot-out grabbed the attention of TV stations from Long Beach to London. (See pictures from Mexico’s drug war.)
Until early 2009, it was difficult to gauge exactly how many foreigners were scared away by the drug war and its piles of headless corpses. The global economic crisis may have done just as good a job of keeping potential visitors at home. In any case, while tourism was hit in the first months of 2009, it was not devastated; for example, the Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific coast reported hotel occupancy of 83% in February, compared with 90% in the same month of 2008.
But then came disease. While the drug war may have given a few people the jitters, the swine flu sent many more running for their lives. As news of Mexicans sputtering to death on hospital beds shot round the world, tourists fled resorts in packed planes while many more upcoming holidays were canceled. At the Riviera Nayarit, hotel occupancy in May plummeted to 33%, compared with 70% in the same month of 2008. In some other resorts, it was down to single figures. And most of the visitors who came were Mexicans, not foreigners. “It was like first getting a cough and then getting hit over the head with a shovel,” says Marc Murphy, director of the Riviera Nayarit tourism board. (See pictures of swine flu in Mexico.)
Like most tourism officials in Mexico, Murphy complains the media showed the country in an unfairly bad light. He is quick to point out there have been no documented cases of any holidaymakers being directly affected by the Mexican drug war. “Somewhere like Los Angeles has many more gang members and killings than the places the tourists visit here,” Murphy says. “But Mexico has got more negative coverage than most countries. There has also been some irresponsible and incompetent reporting.”
President Felipe Calderón is also critical of the media spotlight shining on Mexico. He was particularly incensed when Forbes magazine included Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzmán on its richest list — he was put at No. 701, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. “Magazines are not only attacking and lying about the situation in Mexico but are also praising criminals,” he said in March, following the Forbes choice. (TIME later went on to include Guzman in its TIME 100 list, noting that criminals are, unfortunately, influential in today’s world.) (See pictures of America’s gun culture.)
Calderón is particularly concerned about the nation’s image because of the bottom line. In 2008, foreign tourists spent $13.3 billion in Mexico, the third biggest source of foreign income after remittances and oil exports. This year all three of these moneymakers are being clobbered. While the price of petroleum nose-dived with the crisis, the recession north of the border pushed Mexican remittances down 18.6% in April compared with the same time last year. To add to these woes, Mexico’s manufacturing sector has been battered by a drop in spending in the U.S. In total, the Mexican government predicts the economy will shrink 5.5% this year. But some private analysts speculate the decline might be more than 8%, the worst dive since the Great Depression.
Calderón argues that the ability of Mexicans to deal with this challenge will be crucial to luring tourists back. Personally launching the Vive México campaign in his presidential palace, the President focused on selling Mexican character. “Let us tell the whole world that we are a strong nation with a unique unity and identity,” he said, “that no matter how hard or difficult the tests we have to face, particularly at the present time, Mexico is united and will overcome them.”