HomeNewsWeapons Traffickers Target Chile's Port of Iquique

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.

According to media outlet Bio Bio Chile, the vehicles were shipped from New York, then passed through Panama before reaching the Iquique port.

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.

InSight Crime Analysis

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.

SEE ALSO: Chile Dismantles 'First' Arms Trafficking Ring Importing US Weapons

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.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Florida has been unable to shake its reputation as a go-to destination for Latin American criminals to secure guns and…

CHILE / 5 NOV 2020

A new report suggests the Chinese fishing fleet that mass trawled just off Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands in recent months crossed…

CHILE / 20 AUG 2021

Faced with endemic timber theft and uneven government enforcement, logging companies in Chile have agreed to new guidelines meant to…

About InSight Crime


Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.


InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.


Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …


InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…


Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…