Because the recent spike in drug-related violence in Mexico has coincided with the 2004 expiration of the U.S. assault weapons ban, and because a significant portion of the weapons used in Mexican crimes have been traced to U.S. vendors, Mexican officials often accuse liberal U.S. gun laws of being a major obstacle to a safer Mexico. Indeed, President Felipe Calderon made precisely this point during a speech to U.S. Congress in 2010.
U.S. officials have not denied that the problem exists. President Obama lamented his government’s inability to make headway against the flow of arms traffic, calling the task “impossible” earlier this month. One Los Angeles official recently termed the southward arms flow between his city and Tijuana an “ammo pipeline.”
The anger over the “Fast and Furious” scandal, in which U.S. federal agents allowed weapons to cross the Mexican border in order to track their flow towards criminal groups, has furthered the image of a U.S. government careless about the impact the country’s arms may have on Mexico. Several of the guns purchased under Fast and Furious were later used in crimes, including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol official last December.
However, the legacy of the Central American civil wars between the 1960s and 1980s, which flooded the region with small arms, has also contributed to the availability of lethal weapons in Mexico. There are·several recent examples of soldiers looting official arms caches and reselling them on the black market in nations like El Salvador.
For two decades, [Mexico’s] southern border has been a port of entry for the weapons that feed the country’s black market. There are 956 miles of border between Mexico and Guatemala, where it is enough to reach cities like Ciudad Hidalgo, Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, or in border towns like Corozal, Talisman or Carmen Xhan, cross the border checkpoints and walk around Tecun Uman, La Mesilla, Peten, El Carmen and Gracias a Dios to be offered weapons.
Salesmen in shacks, adobe huts, or in the middle of the street offer the old M-16s and Galils that the Central American civil wars left behind; or more modern weapons, like the M72 and AT4 (anti-tank rockets), RPG-7 rocket-launchers, or 37-millimeter MGL grenade-launchers, with tracers and armor-piercing capacity, sold by catalogue, and a one-week wait before delivery.
The weapons arrive mostly from the United States, through air or maritime routes to Guatemala for distribution in Mexico, Central America, or South America. The advantage that this market offers is that purchases can be made without any middlemen, and that crossing is much easier than on the northern border.
Weapons acquired in Guatemala to supply the black market in Mexico are transported using the “hormiga” method, among the belongings of those who cross the border between the two countries — identified as one of the most porous in the world. Or, if they are large shipments, they are transported along the Suchiate River, or in secret compartments in vehicles that cross the border, or in collusion with immigration and customs officials.
The Mexican government identifies some principal routes through which U.S. arms enter. The Pacific route, whose entry point is Tijuana, and passes though Mexicali, San Luis Rio Colorado, Nogales, Hermosillo, Culiacan, Tepic, Guadalajara, Lazaro Cardenas, Morelia, Chilpancingo y Oaxaca.
The central route, which passes through Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Durango, Guadalajara, and Morelia. Through the Gulf route, they come via Ciudad Acuña, Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo, Miguel Aleman, Reynosa, Matamoros, before moving on to Ciudad Victoria, Veracruz, and Tabasco or Oaxaca. And the southern route, in the border towns of Balancan, Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Tapachula and Ciudad Hidalgo, and moving on to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and from there to Veracruz and Oaxaca.