As Mexican cartels infiltrate Central America, corrupt elements within the region’s militaries from places like Honduras are providing them with arms far superior to those of local police. But the question remains: Just how many of the weapons used by Mexican cartels come from military stockpiles in Central America versus civilian gun stores in the United States?
The question is central. The source of the guns fueling a war that has left over 36,000 dead in Mexico since December 2006, has governments and advocate groups on both sides of the border pointing fingers. Mexico is reportedly considering suing U.S. gunmakers, reports CBS News.
But gun stores along the U.S. border states are only one source of weaponry used in Mexico. As InSight has reported, Guatemala's military stockpiles have been filtered illegally to the Zetas criminal gang. On top of this, according to a 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable first obtained by WikiLeaks and recently released by McClatchy, the Honduran military has “lost” several U.S.-supplied military weapons in recent years.
The cable, avaliable below, cites a Defense Intelligence Agency report entitled “Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market,” which noted that the serial numbers on light anti-tank weapons recovered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and San Andres Island, Colombia, matched the numbers on guns that had previously been sold to Honduras. In addition to the guns, U.S. authorities seized a number of M433 grenades from criminal groups in Mexico, which were also traced back to the Honduran army.
Such revelations, when paired with recent allegations of high-level government links to drug trafficking in Honduras, present a dim forecast for anti-arms trafficking efforts in Central America. They also add fuel to an already heated debate over the cartels' main source of arms. While testifying to the U.S. Senate on March 30, General Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, implied that corrupt military officers in Central America bear most of the responsibility for arming Mexican drug traffickers.
"Over 50 percent of the military-type weapons that are flowing throughout the region have a large source between Central American stockpiles, if you will, left over from wars and conflicts in the past," said Fraser.
But while General Fraser’s comment that over 50 percent of “military-type” weapons come from Central America may be true, it is misleading. The weapons coming from Central America only account for military-grade arms, which include anti-tank weapons as well as M-16 and G36 assault rifles.
The civilian versions of these weapons, such as the AR-15 and the AK-47 variants, account for many more of the seizures made in Mexico, according to several United States Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) sources consulted by InSight. Indeed, ATF agents have repeatedly told InSight that the most commonly carried weapons by cartel foot soldiers are modified, automatic AK-47 variants from Romania and China. These cheaper versions are readily available in many American gun stores and bought, legally, by straw buyers at the behest of middlemen who sell them, illegally, en masse to the cartels in Mexico.
S E C R E T STATE 105491
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/01/2018 TAGS: MASS, MCAP, PARM, HO SUBJECT: DEMARCHE: LAX HONDURAN CONTROLS ON U.S.-SUPPLIED WEAPONS Classified By: Classified by: Christopher W. Webster, Director WHA/CEN Reason(s) 1.4 (a),(b), (c), and (d).
1. (U) Action request contained in paras 2 and 3.
2. (S/NF) Summary: The USG has become aware that light antitank weapons (LAWs) and grenades supplied to Honduras under the Foreign Military Sales program were recovered in Mexico and Colombia. The Department's Bureau of Political Military Affairs is preparing a congressional notification (required by Section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act) regarding the possible unauthorized diversion, misuse or failure to secure such U.S.origin defense articles or defense services by the Government of Honduras (GOH). The Embassy is requested to raise this issue with appropriate GOH officials to ensure that GOH officials understand their legal end-use obligations with respect to control of U.S.-origin defense articles, that USG end-use monitoring is being completed, and that failure to fulfill their obligations may jeopardize certain aspects of future bilateral security cooperation.
3. (SBU) Department requests Embassy pursue the following objectives with appropriate GOH Ministries of Defense (MOD) and Foreign Affairs (MFA) officials
-- To remind GOH that is has retransfer, end-use and security obligations with respect to defense articles or defense services sold or granted by the U.S.
-- To ensure that the GOH realizes the importance of ensuring especially weapons, supplied under U.S. military assistance programs to prevent unauthorized transfers.
-- To gain GOH commitment to accept responsibility for investigating unauthorized diversions and punish appropriately those held responsible.
-- To obtain GOH action to strengthen controls on import/export of weapons and other military equipment.
-- Reiterate U.S. support for on-going weapons destruction programs or new requests for future programs. Express U.S. willingness to provide physical security and/or stockpile management assistance to the GOH if requested.
4. (S/NF) On July 9, 2008, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published a report entitled "Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market". According to the DIA report, three light anti-tank weapons (LAWs) were recovered in Mexico City in January 2008, and one was recovered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in April 2008. Six more LAWs were recovered on San Andres Island, Colombia in March 2008. Factory markings analysis of lot and serial numbers undertaken by DIA's Military Materiel Identification Division (CHUCKWAGON)/MIO-5 indicates that these LAWs were part of a shipment of fifty sent to the Honduran 2nd Infantry Battalion's TESON training element. The LAWs were originally transferred to Honduras in 1992 as part of a U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. (C/HND) In April 2008, an investigation undertaken by the Honduran military found that the 2nd Infantry Battalion's TESON training element could not account for 26 of these fifty LAWs. (S/NF) In addition, at least two U.S.-produced M433 40-mm grenades have beenrecovered in Colombia and Mexico, according to credible sources with direct access cited in the DIA report. The only foreign military sale of M433 40-mm grenades was to Honduras in 1985.
5. (U) For more information on this issue please contact WHA/CEN: Rebecca M. Valerin (202-647-3482)