Arms trafficking, also known as gunrunning, is the trafficking of contraband weapons and ammunition. What constitutes legal trade in firearms varies widely, depending on local and national laws. This is the second part of a series of an investigation conducted and originally published by news.vice.com media outlet, in which this criminal activity is exposed. The San Miguel Times presents this series, unveiling the large quantities of arms are being transferred from the United States to the developing world.
The three routes
The business carried out by persons like Chester is not advertised in the newspapers, these people are only contacted through other people that they trust. But once you have the right contact, it’s really easy to get a gun in Mexico City’s black market.
Money is not a problem either, weapons start from 5,000 pesos ($ 247 USD), although they are ‘burned’ (quemadas), that is, they were already used to commit a crime; and are actually traced by the police.
“Those weapons are cheaper. However, you do not know if they were used to kill someone, and if the authorities are currently following the trail of one of these guns”, explained Chester.
“The buyer finally decides whether to take the risk or not”, he said.
This man, who used to be a thief, now sells mostly 9mm or .380 hand guns, although he can get other kind of weapons from short to long ones, clean or “burned”, automatic or semi-automatic, as well as different calibers and models. With the only goal of satisfying the clients, they only need to call one of their suppliers, and during the next few days, you will receive the piece and put it in your hands.
– Is it a profitable business to sell guns?
– “Yes, everyone wants a ‘rocket’ (cohete); just give a gunfire to any man, even the most coward and he instantly becomes emboldened. With a gun in his hands, any asshole feels like Superman”.
Chester usually buys and sells arms in an easy manner, but it’s not due to his good fortune. We must understand that this phenomenon is because the sellers can acquire all these weapons extremely easy and in a very simple way. And this great variety of weapons avaiable in México, is the result of sharing 3,152 kilometers (2,200 miles) of common border with the largest armaments supplier in the world, the United States of America.
In addition to the geographical factor, the real problem is that the law in the United States authorize almost any American citizen to buy arms at pretty low prices. The only requirement is that you have no criminal record.
According to a recent report on Mexico-USA arm trafficking released by the PGR, in 2009 Mexican arm traffickers preferred to buy weapons from legal residents in the U.S.; they acquire them legally at the armories, gun shops and gun shows in the bordering states of México (California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas), and then they resell those arms to contraband and criminal groups. As simple as that.
The next step is to pass them across the border into México.
“The truth is that it’s really easy to bring illegal weapons into our country,” said national security specialist Gerardo Rodríguez, and continued: “because the Mexican border controls in terms of customs are a lot less stringent than in the United States.”
“Are the weapons detected during the customs operations?” Vice asked Rodriguez.
“Most of the time they are! The guns pass through customs, and there, corrupt customs agents detect the illegal guns, but instead of confiscate them, these agents see this as a great opportunity to make a “well deserved” profit. With one or two of these transactions a month, Mexican Customs Agents can make as much as the salary of one year. Besides, México does not have enough personnel on the northern border to stop this constant wave of illegal weapons coming into the country” .
In the words of expert Gerardo Rodríguez, “it’s highly unlikely to stop a person for arms trafficking in México”.
In that sense, according to a study elaborated by the University of San Diego along with Brazil’s Institute of Igarapé, Mexican authorities barely intercepted 12.7 percent of the guns that crossed illegally along the northern border in the period of 2010 to 2012.
Once the merchandise comes into México, then it is distributed throughout the country following three routes:
- Weapons enter by Baja California or Sonora, then they descend along the Pacific coast towards Oaxaca.
- Arms that cross through the border with Chihuahua head towards the Mexican plateau region (Bajio).
- And the Gulf route, that is used by Chester suppliers, which includes the weapons that enter through Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas and are distributed in the southeastern of Chiapas and some of them make it all the way down to Central America.
Chester explained: “the dealers transport the merchandise in cars from the city of Matamoros to a meeting point that is not fixed. From there, the México City buyers take charge of the cargo and bring the arms into the capital… everyone take the necessary precautions not be stopped by law enforcement agents (most of the time, bribing them).”
“Right now, many operatives are being carried out by the Mexican Army, so traffickers who bring us the guns have to to do a bigger effort to not be busted. Therefore, they do not bring them all the way to downtown Mexico City, we actually go to get them to other “suburban” areas, in order to avoid police checkpoints.”
The last step is the delivery to the final buyer, the activity carried out by Chéster. As soon as he receives the weapons he sells them. He never keeps one for more than 15 days because there are always customers eagerly waiting for a “cohete“.
But what about the police? VICE asked Chester. “Either they ignore the existence of the business or they are part of it.” Chester answers.
“In fact, I have a ‘protector‘ who is a police officer” says Chester; and he is also a ‘coheton‘ (long weapons) provider. I do not know where he gets the guns, but the other day he had an italian Pietro Beretta with a silencer that costs 38,000 pesos ($ 1,900 USD). The man usually ‘connects’ customers who seek for more sophisticated weapons like that, more expensive stuff”.
Many might think that VICE’s interviewee may be bragging, but actual information from the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) indicates that law enforcement agents throughout México have reported 12,878 weapons as ‘stolen’ or ‘lost’ between January 2006 and April 2017. 1,836 of them belonged to police officers or members of the Attorney General’s Office in Mexico City.
“This is a very profitable business due to the fact that it’s really easy to bring arms from the United States into Mexico, transport them to the southern states and sell them to the final client”.
Rodríguez added: “We cannot forget the huge profits generated, the truth is that there is no institutional capacity to prevent this highly profitable market.”