Authorities in Chile say they have uncovered the first international arms trafficking network importing guns from the United States to be resold in the South American nation, illustrating how crime groups across Latin America have taken advantage of lax US gun laws to supply the region with illicit weapons.
The organized crime division of Chile’s investigative police dismantled an arms trafficking ring linked to three shipments containing 18 firearms, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunitions, other firearm accessories and eight luxury vehicles that were seized by police over the course of a four-month investigation dubbed “Operation Houston,” La Tercera reported.
According to a press release from Chile's customs agency, the investigation began in January 2018 after authorities intercepted a shipment of four automatic pistols at the international airport in the capital Santiago.
Authorities have linked the shipments to a criminal group known as “Los Pachucos” operating in the city of Maipú in central Chile just southwest of Santiago, according to La Tercera. The group has been involved in petty crimes in the area since the 1990s.
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Beginning in 2015, Los Pachucos allegedly started to expand their criminal portfolio. The group’s leader, Mauricio Pavez Becerra, moved to Houston to capitalize on lax US gun laws and start shipping weapons back to Chile hidden in electronic devices like DVD players and radios, according to La Tercera.
Los Pachucos also allegedly partnered with a Chilean car importer named Fernando Cabrera who operated in the northern port city of Arica to introduce the weapons into the country. According to La Tercera, Pavez Becerra would transfer the weapons from Houston to Miami where a middleman by the name of Jean Pierre Allende Sáez would hide them in the interiors of cars and trucks that were to be imported to Chile in shipping containers by boat.
Pavez Becerra allegedly acquired the guns for $500 in Texas. Los Pachucos would then resell the weapons at a marked up price of 1.5 million Chilean pesos (around $2,400) to local criminals operating in Santiago and Valparaíso along Chile’s Pacific coast, according to La Tercera.
Authorities have charged 12 individuals with arms trafficking, illicit association and money laundering, among other charges, according to an Interior Ministry press release. However, the middleman between Pavez Becerra and the Chilean car importer remains a fugitive in the United States, according to La Tercera.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although Chilean authorities said this is the first time they have discovered an arms trafficking ring with a connection to the United States, the exploitation of loose US gun laws and the methods used by the trafficking network are actually quite common across the region.
SEE ALSO: Chile News and Profile
Trafficking US firearms to Latin America disguised in shipments of other goods with metal components is a method frequently used by traffickers. And other smugglers have previously used the busy port city of Miami, which sees huge trade flows with Latin America.
In February 2017, for example, US authorities dismantled a trafficking ring that was shipping firearms and ammunition disguised in packages of empty car batteries from Miami to Maracaibo, Venezuela. A Brazilian trafficking network uncovered last year also shipped guns through Miami.