A program to track El Salvador's hundreds of thousands of firearms has established that most come from the United States, suggesting civil war era weapons are being replaced through new arms trafficking networks.
With training from the US Office on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), El Salvador's National Police (PNC) has tracked around 34,000 arms in the last two years, reported La Prensa Grafica. The aim is ultimately to track all legal registered arms, which the PNC estimate to number around 200,000.
The process has shown most El Salvador arms come from the United States, said the director of the PNC's Arms and Explosives Division, Eduardo Azucena Lopez. However, some weapons in circulation are left over from the civil war in El Salvador (1979-92) and those of neighboring countries such as Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Despite the advances in tracking weapons, various known arms caches have not been analyzed, said Azucena. More than 30,000 arms remain in arsenals seized some years ago but not destroyed, due to legal rulings. The Armed Forces have scheduled the destruction of 1,722 seized weapons for December 5.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Salvador has historically been one of the most violent countries in Latin America, and at least 70 percent of murders are carried out with firearms. While it only takes a small number of weapons to carry out a large number of murders, finding out where the weapons that arm the country's gang members come from is a crucial part of tackling El Salvador's violence.
Decades of civil conflict in Central America left the region awash with weapons, which became a major source of arms for emerging criminal groups. Governments have failed, or been unable, to destroy many of these weapons -- not only in El Salvador but also in in Guatemala. Many of the weapons left over from past civil conflicts that have made their way into criminal hands were also originally supplied by the United States, in clandestine shipments during the 1980s.
The ATF is instrumental in assisting regional governments that lack the capacity to track and destroy weapons, and its investigations have revealed a high percentage of modern weapons in the region's most violent countries originate in the United States, suggesting as more civil war era weapons are decommissioned, many will be replaced by arms trafficking networks from north of the border.