The arms trafficking industry crisscrosses the Americas, providing weapons for insurgencies and organized criminals from Buenos Aires to Ciudad Juárez. It leaves close to 100,000 dead per year Latin America and the Caribbean and is a leading cause of instability throughout the region. For years, the movement of weapons was governed by the Cold War and the insurgencies that emerged throughout Latin America. Governments, as well as guerrilla groups in Central and South America, sought to arm themselves using mostly U.S., Russian and Chinese weapons. In some cases, the United States, seeking to hide arms transfers, moved Russian weapons such as the Avtomat Kalashnikov 47 (AK-47) assault rifle, through third countries like Israel to camouflage their sales to illegal groups. The Soviets, meanwhile, moved weapons through Cuba and later Nicaragua. The arms trade flourished, and distribution patterns that are still prevalent today were established.
The AUC’s settlement with the government and subsequent demobilization in between 2004-2006, has given new criminal groups that emerged from this process the firepower to traffic drugs, extort local businesses and wealthy landowners, and threaten to undermine eight years sustained military and political progress in that country. Other weapons continue to arrive from the former Soviet Union. Indeed, small countries like Romania have become the chief supplier of their version of the AK to Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Meanwhile, governments like the Hugo Chávez administration in Venezuela have greatly increased their arsenal. Venezuela purchased 100,000 AKs from Russia in 2006, among other armaments. And in 2007, the Venezuelan government began building a factory that will manufacture AK-103s, a variation of the ubiquitous AK-47, and manufacture 7.62 mm rounds, the ammunition of choice for the FARC and ELN. Colombian and U.S. government officials worry these weapons, as well as the old Venezuelan military stockpiles, may end up in the hands of the rebels.
The weapons for the Americas come from the world over. The United States and Russia remain chief suppliers. As many 2,000 weapons per day cross into Mexico from the United States, all of them illegally. Other weapons continue to flow in via the same routes that drugs and other illicit goods make their way out of the region. The tri-border region, where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet, is another key entry and exit point for illicit goods and weapons. Some countries produce their own weapons but only supply about four percent of the total weapons in the region.
In Sight Crimes