After a seizure of disassembled guns found in vehicles shipped from the United States to Chile, a prosecutor warned that the South American country – not typically a hub for illegal firearms – had seen an uptick in weapons trafficking through its northern port.
The seizure occurred at Chile's port of Iquique, where customs officials uncovered 30 dismantled AM-15 rifles in vehicles exported from the United States. X-ray scans revealed the rifle parts scattered within false bottom compartments, according to a July 31 news release by the Attorney General's Office.
It was the second seizure of weapons hidden in vehicles from the United States. Earlier in July, agents at Paraguay's San José Port Authority discovered five disassembled AK-47s and a 9millimeter pistol in a Nissan truck. The shipping container with the illicit weapons had passed through Iquique before being discovered by Paraguayan law enforcement.
Julio Fernández, head of San José Port Authority, said that authorities knew the identity of the arms trafficker and were working to make arrests and seize as many illegal weapons as possible.
As a part of the investigation, Paraguay notified Chile of the trafficker's modus operandi and use of the Iquique port. This tip led to the seizure of the rifles by customs authorities.
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Though US weapons generally enter South American countries hidden in other cargo, this ring showed a level of sophistication by concealing the rifles within the bodywork of vehicles -- a tactic only available to seasoned smugglers.
Chilean officials are concerned.
Tarapacá Prosecutor Raúl Arancibia said that the latest seizure wasn't an isolated case. Criminal organizations, he said, have been taking advantage of Chile's industrial free trade zone, its ports and its border situation to "reach other destinations, or to reach our country more easily with firearms of this caliber."
Paola Apablaza, chief prosecutor of the criminal analysis unit in Tarapacá, said that "it is very easy to use legal trade networks to move illegal weapons, which may be destined for neighboring countries that have serious problems in terms of organized crime."
Two other cases of weapons being trafficked to Chile have been reported. The first occurred in May 2018, when two international postal packages were confiscated in Santiago International Airport. The packages concealed four automatic pistols, magazines and ammunition. Nine people were arrested for trafficking the weapons from Miami to Chile.
The second case occurred in October 2019, when Iquique Customs made its largest illegal weapons seizure. A shipping container sent from Miami held thousands of rounds of ammunition, over 24 kilograms of gunpowder, hundreds of cartridges, and machines that manufacture and calibrate guns and bullets.
This type of high-powered weaponry often is sold to Brazil's powerful gangs, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV) and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC. In 2019, Argentina dismantled an arms trafficking ring that received thousands of weapons from the US and Europe destined for gangs in Brazil and Paraguay.