Guatemala is set to gain access to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) weapons tracing system, to track arms confiscated from criminal groups in the country.

Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz declared that the new agreement would give Guatemala access to the ATF’s database, which is also used by Mexico to track the origin of seized weapons, reported Prensa Libre.

Paz y Paz also noted that granting access to Guatemala, a key transit country for illegal weapons, is a vital step in helping monitor arms trafficking throughout the region.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to a recent report by Plaza Publica, there are over 1 million weapons circulating in Guatemala, some 800,000 of which are unregistered. In 2007, the country had the highest number of guns per head of population in Central America. Many of these weapons are left over from the country’s civil conflict, with guns from both rebel and government stockpiles circulating on the black market. This black market for firearms is mostly controlled by criminal networks that evolved from civil war-era security forces, known as the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (CIACS).

Many weapons in Guatemala also come from the transnational illicit arms trade. Guatemala’s attorney general found last year that the vast majority of illegal weapons seized in the country had been sourced from Honduras, which has some of the more lax gun laws in the region.

Guatemala’s illicit weapons are not always destined for domestic criminals, with many transported north on to Mexico. While US Justice Department data suggests that up to 70 percent of weapons recovered in Mexico over the past five years can be traced back to the United States, other sources have suggested that Guatemala’s CIACS play a major role in providing firearms to Mexican criminal organizations such as the Zetas.

Access to the ATF’s weapons tracing system will help the authorities determine where their efforts should be focused in combating the illicit arms trade in the country.