HomeNewsAnalysisMexico's Weapons Seizures Map Out Cartel Firepower

Mexico's Weapons Seizures Map Out Cartel Firepower


A recent report reveals 60 percent of all confiscated weapons in Mexico are seized in the three states of Tamaulipas, Guerrero, and Jalisco, with 7 out of 10 weapons confiscated coming from the United States.

Criminal organizations operating in Tamaulipas, Guerrero, and Jalisco were the most armed in the country, at least in the last year. Data updated by SEIDO, the organized crime division of the Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR), confirms that more than 60 percent of weapons seized from cartels between September 2014 and July 2015 were found in these three states.

This article originally appeared in Animal Politico, and was translated, edited, and reprinted with permission. See Spanish original here.

Of the decommissioned weapons, three out of four were long-arms, with the majority of those high-powered rifles only legally permitted for use by the armed forces. More than 70 percent came from the United States. Among the weapons seizured were also fragmentation grenades, rockets, and anti-personnel mines.

The figures came from an annual PGR report (pdf) presented to Congress during the third year of the current federal administration's six-year term.

The document's breakdown of the fight against organized crime highlights the convictions obtained against 31 members of 10 cartels operating in Mexico. They range from lieutenants to financial operators.

The convictions include members from criminal organizations such as Los Rojos, Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), the Zetas, the Pacific Cartel, the Knights Templar, and others.

The record doesn't include any convictions against Guerreros Unidos members, one of the two main criminal groups that, along with Los Rojos, operates in Guerrero. Among other crimes, Guerreros Unidos is held responsible for the disappearance of 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa.

Armed States

In the second year of the current administration's six-year term, Sinaloa, Michoacan, and Sonora were the states in which the most arms were seized from organized crime groups. Michoacan's case was special because there was a notable increase in the presence of federal forces and ministerial agents following the emergence of vigilante groups, known locally as "autodefensas."

SEE ALSO: Special Report on Michoacan Militias

PGR's third report for the current administration shows a different view. Of the 413 firearms SEIDO has confirmed as originating from organized crime groups, 142 were found in Tamaulipas, equal to almost a third of all weapons found between September 2014 and June 2015.

In Tamaulipas, factions of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas exercise complete control over arms, drug, and human trafficking routes.

In total, the 255 arms confiscated in Tamaulipas, Guerrero, and Jalisco represent just over 61 percent of all weapons seized in the last year.

Guerrero has the second largest quantity of arms seized from organized crime groups in the last year, with a total of 57. Various criminal groups have a presence in the state, but Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos are the strongest, according to the PGR.

The federal record reveals almost the same amount of seized arms in Jalisco. The Pacific Cartel (comprised of the Sinaloa Cartel and its allies) and Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) are the principal criminal operators in the state.

On the outskirts of the Jalisco municipalities of Casimiro Castillo and Villa Purificacion is where CJNG soldiers were able to shoot down a helicopter with high-powered arms. The attack killed ten members of the military and federal police.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Jalisco Cartel

In total, the 255 arms confiscated in Tamaulipas, Guerrero, and Jalisco represent just over 61 percent of all weapons seized in the last year.

The other 11 regions where SEIDO reported arms seizures from criminal groups are Sinaloa, Sonora, the Federal District, Nuevo Leon, Michoacan, Mexico State, Morelos, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Puebla, and Yucatan.

The latest report from SEIDO, when compared to the previous year, shows an eight percent reduction in the number of weapons confiscated from organized crime groups.


Of the 413 weapons seized from organized crime groups almost 75 percent were long-arms, meaning automatic and semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, machine-guns, and sniper rifles. The rest were short-arms, consisting mainly of pistols and revolvers.

SEIDO figures reveal the most commonly decommissioned long-arms were 7.62 x 39 caliber rifles. The caliber is primarily used with AK-47s, known locally as a "Cuerno de Chivo" or "Ram's Horn." Almost half of the arms found by authorities were this type.

The AK-47 is a Russian-designed automatic rifle. Its easy handling and reliability in almost any climate has made it popular with criminal groups. Its use in Mexico is general prohibited -- even the Mexican Army doesn't use it, despite being authorized to do so.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

In July 2012, following violence in Sinaloa, the state government formally solicited permission from the National Defense Secretary to use AK-47s. The request involved certain legal reforms, which were unsuccessful.

The second long-arm most often seized from cartels -- accounting for 18 percent of confiscated weapons -- were .223 caliber models. These include US-produced AR-15 rifles used by Mexican federal police and state police tactical groups. The weapons come in automatic and semi-automatic varieties.

The third most confiscated long-arms were of the 556xOTAN variety, making up 4.5 percent of seizures. Criminals obtain these weapons on the black market, but state police -- and even municipalities like Iguala -- have arms of this caliber, such as the German model HK G36.

At least 70 percent of all weapons are acquired in the United States and illegally trafficked to Mexico.

The data also reveals that between September 2014 and June 2015 authorities confiscated 66 explosive devices from cartels. Of these, 32 percent were fragmentation grenades, 29 percent munitions for 40 millimeter grenade launchers, and 23 percent anti-personnel mines of various types.

In the last several years the PGR has designed an intelligence system focused specifically on arms trafficking, the latest report notes. The system has benefited from cooperation with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The system has created a database -- which includes the most recent seizures -- of 9,180 firearms and 2,108 grenades whose origins have been registered. So far, the database has established that at least 70 percent of all the weapons were acquired in the United States and illegally trafficked to Mexico.

The report does not dismiss that some weapons, like the German HK G36 rifles, pass through authorities before begin acquired by criminals. Animal Politico has previously published that Mexican police forces lose six weapons per day on average.

And the Guerreros Unidos?

The PGR reported to lawmakers that, in the past year, federal judges sentenced 31 people who were members from ten major criminal organizations. These people were charged with various offenses, such as organized crime, violations of the federal firearms law, kidnapping, and operating with illicit proceeds.

The cartel recording the most sentences was the Beltran Leyva, with nine of its members convicted in court. Next came the criminal group Los Rojos -- which emerged as a result of the dismantling of the Beltran Leyva -- with five members sentenced.

The Guerreros Unidos, a rival of the Los Rojos, also operates in Guerrero and was established by former members of the Beltran Leyva. Although being linked with multiple crimes -- including the kidnapping of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa -- no member has received a conviction in the last year.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Guerreros Unidos

The Jalisco Cartel and the Pacific Cartel each had three members sentenced. Two members of the Arellano Felix Cartel, and two from the Juarez Cartel, also received sentences.

According to the SEIDO report, one of the highest prison sentences handed down was 185 years for Mario Leon Gonzalez, a member of the Pacific Cartel. He was found guilty of the offense of organized crime, being accused of crimes against the public health, kidnapping, as well as attempted murder and homicide.

Others who received a high prison sentence -- of 171 years and 10 months -- were Osmael Almaraz Gomez and Jose Antonio Martinez Martienz, assassins for the Zetas. The two were captured in 2008 by the Mexican Army after they had kidnapped a dozen people and forced them to to make packages for hiding marijuana.


*This article originally appeared in Animal Politico, and was translated, edited, and reprinted with permission. See Spanish original here.

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