Last updateFri, 14 Dec 2018 4pm

Expert delegation finds crisis in Mexico tied to arms flow from US

What connection do mass shootings in the United States have with the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero and even with northward immigration from Latin America?

A 16-person, international fact finding delegation that recently arrived in Mexico, drawn by the critical level of human rights abuses here, has tied all these problems to at least one lynchpin — a superabundance of American-made weaponry. 

“There are many more victims of assault guns in Mexico than in the United States,” said John Lindsay-Poland, a specialist in U.S. foreign policy affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-founded peace and justice group. “Assault guns are an international problem,” he emphasized.

Lindsay-Poland, who visited Mexico City, Guerrero, Chiapas and Cuernavaca with the AFSC delegation starting June 12, added that the massive legal and illegal southward movement of U.S.-manufactured weapons is causing the current “crisis of violence” in Mexico, which has been labeled the third most deadly conflict in the world, after the civil war in Syria and the ISIS advance in Iraq. 

The delegates met with U.S. embassy officials, migrants who left Central America due to threats from forces using U.S. supplied weapons, Guerrero state police, and families of the Guerrero students who were shot in well-attested attacks but whose bodies then disappeared.

“We met with 25 or 30 family members in Guerrero. The rest were afraid to come because of threats,” Lindsay-Poland said, noting that gang-infiltrated government forces considered responsible for the attacks on the students used dozens of U.S.-made Colt AR-15 assault rifles.

He added that, while other nations contribute to the overflow of arms in Mexico (including ammunition, helicopters, Humvees and the like), the United States dominates due to its productive strength and proximity to Mexico. And, besides government-to-government transfers, the legal sale and illegal importation of weapons from U.S. border states is enormous.

“You or I — we’re over 18 and don’t have criminal records — can go into one of hundreds of gun dealers a short distance from the border in Texas or Arizona and buy one assault rifle or a hundred — we’d attract some attention if we bought a hundred — and then cross the border with them. It’s illegal but it happens all the time. Often there’s nobody at the checkpoint.

“The closer you are to the U.S.-Mexico border, the more guns recovered from crimes are sourced to the U.S. Farther south, it’s less — about 50 percent of their weapons are American.”

But Lindsay-Poland observed that in their zeal to achieve goals, whether it be stopping drugs or illegal immigration, U.S. officials do not seem aware of the actual results of supplying arms to Mexico through formal channels such as the 2008 Merida Initiative, the Department of State or government-sanctioned sales.

“In our meeting, we asked embassy officials about the effect of these weapon transfers on human rights and they were blank. But the State Department has pointed out human rights problems in Mexico. And since 1997, the Leahy law has prohibited weapon sales to foreign military or police with a history of abuse. Large sales are supposed to be reviewed by the Foreign Affairs Committee, but that isn’t transparent, so we don’t know if it’s happening.

“Even if U.S. officials look for abuses before assistance,” he continued, “they have a blind spot in seeing abuse that happens after. But in a country like Mexico, with such impunity and corruption, such violation of human rights, where most crimes are not reported, it’s unconscionable that the United States won’t examine the aftereffects of assistance.” 

Lindsay-Poland pointed out a little known sequel to the disappearance of the 43 students. A few months later, Germany’s Ambassador Victor Elbling and Human Rights Commissioner Christopher Strasser visited Guerrero, apologizing for the probable use of 36 German-made Heckler & Koch assault rifles in the still-murky tragedy. (Directors of Heckler & Koch were punished for the gun sales, illegal under German law, to states notorious for human rights abuses, such as Guerrero.)

However, because the United States has few viable restrictions on arms sales to Mexico, when the U.S.-made AR-15s were linked with the attack in Guerrero, no similar apology came from the United States. 

This chafes some Mexicans. After the June 20 killings of teachers by federal troops in Oaxaca, protestors at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara complained, saying “We hold the U.S. government responsible for the massacres … because they have been supplying the Mexican government with the machinery of war.” (Guadalajara Reporter, June 25)

“These weapon transfers are paid for by U.S. taxpayers. And they benefit U.S. companies,” Lindsay-Poland underscored. 

He also traces the acute problem of northward immigration from Central America to weaponry supply. 

“It’s true that some migrate for better jobs, but everyone recognizes that Honduras and El Salvador, where migrants are coming from, are very violent and that more people are fleeing in terror. 

“The reason for the level of violence is that those in power have guns from the United States. In the 1980s, we were heavily involved in the war in El Salvador and we also armed Honduras as a bulwark against that war. Guns last a long time. Now they’re being used by groups vying for power. These are societies where, if people have a dispute, they can’t take it to small claims court, so they use guns.”

Solutions to the deluge of fleeing people have been poor, Lindsay-Poland said. “Obama’s Southern Border Plan wasn’t a good response. We should have addressed the reasons people are fleeing, or given them safe havens. The plan just tries to turn people back. They put armed police along La Bestia, the train that was a primary route, instead of trying to make it safe. They made it hard to get on and off and started arresting and shooting people.”

Lindsay-Poland said he finds the response farther north even worse.

“It’s unfathomable that children who are fleeing violence are seen as a national security problem. What’s happened to our hearts?

“The problem is we take a military approach to problems that aren’t military in origin,” he concluded. “There are better solutions than supplying weapons. To fight drugs, we could start treating addiction in the United States as a public health problem instead of as a crime. We could stop weapons sales before the guns are brought into Mexico. We could get as worried about guns going south as we are about drugs and migrants going north. We could worry about the reasons people are leaving Central America instead of just trying to stop them.”

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