First 100 days: Tackle traffic of weapons into Mexico
— Arturo Sarukhan, a career diplomat, has been Mexican ambassador to the United States since 2007. Ambassador Sarukhan was President Calderon’s chief foreign policy adviser and international spokesperson during the 2006 presidential campaign and headed his foreign policy transition team. The views expressed are his own. —
On January 12th, President Felipe Calderón and then President Elect Barack Obama held their first working meeting in Washington, DC, reflecting their commitment to strengthen the bilateral relationship. The conversation between the two leaders made it abundantly clearly that designing a framework that will simultaneously ensure the common prosperity and the common security of both our peoples remains the central conundrum our two nations face in a post 9-11 world.
Mexico is fully aware that a threat to the security of the United States will profoundly affect the bilateral relationship, and therefore common border security has been and will continue to be a top-priority. In this regard, a clear and present threat we both face is transnational organized crime.
From the outset of his administration, President Calderón committed himself to spearheading a battle aimed at dismantling drug trafficking organizations. These efforts have yielded significant results, including world-record seizures of narcotics, cash and weapons, as well as unprecedented levels of cooperation with the United States in the area of extraditions. As a result, on the U.S. side of the border, there are positive indications of decreased cocaine and methamphetamine availability, and a consequent increase in the retail price and decrease in the purity of these drugs.
These advances have not come without a steep human and financial cost for Mexico. Yet President Calderón is fully committed to continue this fight. But the transnational nature of this phenomenon makes it difficult for our country to successfully confront this threat on its own.
The most critical challenge, given the recent violence unleashed by drug traffickers, is the illegal flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico. The Mexican Government, with the help of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, estimates that 90 percent of the weapons that have been seized from drug-traffickers have entered our country illegally from the U.S.. This percentage should come as no surprise given the abundance of Federal firearms licensed dealers (FFL’s) and gun shows along the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2007 there were approximately 7,600 registered FFL’s in border states alone.
The latest record-seizure of weapons in Mexico is indicative of what law enforcement officials confront in the field and why they are often outgunned, and a powerful reminder of why the U.S. has to put a stop to the traffic of weapons into Mexico. Last November, in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexican authorities seized in a single shipment of 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 288 assault rifles, 14 Herstal semi-automatic pistols, 7 Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, 2 grenade launchers, 1 LAW rocket launcher, and 287 fragmentation grenades. This cache of arms adds to the staggering total so far seized during President Calderón’s first two years in office: 30,231 weapons (16,401 of which were assault weapons), more than 3.5 million rounds of ammunition, and 2,196 grenades.
In the face of this flood of weapons, there is much that the United States can do to help Mexico roll back drug syndicates. For example, enforcing existent legislation, such as the Arms Export Control Act, would effectively criminalize the sale of weapons to individuals whose intent is to export these firearms to countries such as Mexico where they are illegal. Furthermore, a return to the import ban on assault weapons in accordance with the 1968 Gun Control Act would prohibit the importation of such weapons unless they are used for sporting purposes, while the passage of a bill to regulate .50 mm caliber firearms under the National Firearms Act would go a long way in helping to reduce the number of assault weapons flowing into Mexico.
Beyond the enforcement of existing legislation and the enactment of new provisions, the three main agencies that have authority over this issue —the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)— are all in dire need of the resources that would enhance their interdiction and intelligence capabilities, enabling them to put a stop to the southbound flow of weapons, and to investigate, determine and detain individuals that are bundling weapons from gun shows and FFL dealers so as to introduce them illegally into Mexico.
Mexico needs the support of the United States to stop the illegal flow of weapons into our country, as this would have a significant impact on Mexican criminal organizations, de-fanging the drug trafficking organizations of their fire-power and further fragmenting the drug syndicates. At the end of the day, our ultimate challenge is whether Mexico and the U.S. are able and willing to play chess instead of checkers and move toward the most fundamental paradigmatic shift of our common history: building a true strategic partnership. We can succeed together, but if Mexico fails, the U.S. will also fail. We need bold visions, statesmanship and hard questions tackled head-on on both sides of the border.
Mexico is ready to play its part with the new U.S. administration.