Authorities in Peru say the majority of arms used by criminal groups are stolen from private owners and security forces, highlighting a common regional phenomenon that is often facilitated by corrupt officials.
Specialists consulted by El Comercio said the majority of pistols and shotguns used by criminal groups in Peru were stolen from legitimate owners, rather than acquired through the black market. Authorities reported that 1,767 firearms were declared lost or stolen in 2013 alone.
Former Interior Minister Remigio Hernani told the newspaper the majority of the weapons stolen by criminals had been legally imported, sold and licensed, and that common targets for theft were private owners, gun shops and caches maintained by the National Police (PNP) and army.
In a recent operation, authorities recovered firearms, ammunition, explosives, military equipment and uniforms from alleged land thieves. Police believe the majority of the weapons were stolen.
Anthropologist Jaris Mujica, meanwhile, has reported that criminals in Peru often purchase weapons at formal sales points, and that an influx of cheap arms on the legal market has led to increasing ownership of firearms in the country.
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Although El Comercio provides few details about how criminals steal these weapons, the fact many are taken from security force stockpiles gives reason to believe there is collaboration from corrupt officials.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking
Peru has a history of illegal arms trafficking by officials. Peruvian soldiers were arrested in 2009 for allegedly providing weaponry to Colombia’s FARC rebel group, and one official claimed in 2011 the practice was still occurring. Former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos also organized a scheme in 1999 in which 10,000 assault rifles from Jordan were sold to the FARC.
Arms acquisition by criminals and illegal groups facilitated by official corruption is common in Latin America. Mexican cartels have been known to both steal and purchase supplies from the Guatemalan and Honduran armies, while the Uruguayan police and the Argentine army are believed to have sold hundreds of firearms to Brazilian criminals.
In March this year, members of the Colombian army were accused of issuing the Urabeños narco-paramilitary group weaponry stolen from military stockpiles.
While there have been calls for regional action to stop this phenomenon, the continued “disappearance” of large quantities of weapons raises the question of whether it is poor security measures or higher-level corruption that is more to blame.
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