First 100 days: Tackle traffic of weapons into Mexico

February 9, 2009

ambassadorsarukhan— 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.


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#1 Drug Cartels with millions of dollars will get all the guns they need – if we cant stop drugs comming into the us how are we going to stop guns going out
#2 The only anser is a massive police state in northern mexico, witch mexico and not even the united staes has the money for or simply decriminalising Drugs wich will end the problem alltogether.I know I’d fell much better with the pushers of the current druglaws behind bars and the users out.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Ambassador Sarukhan has a valid point in saying that ”
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.”

But he tells only half the story. The reason for the flow of weapons is twofold: 1) It is easy to buy them in the United States, which has lax gun laws and many gun dealers who don’t care where the hardware they sell goes, to hobbyists and members of the NRA or to criminals. 2) Mexico has, to all intents and purposes, an open border for traffic from the U.S. You just drive in, and it is very rare that a south-bound traveler is checked. Mexican border officials don’t even bother to ask for IDs and the red-green light system of random checks is very ineffective. More often than not, when you get the red light, you are waved through anyway by officials who can’t be bothered to do their job properly.

Mexico can’t expect the U.S. Border Patrol to check south-bound traffic on Mexico’s behalf. So, as they say, it takes two to tango and Mexico isn’t ready to dance.

Posted by Edwin Kornblatt | Report as abusive

Blaming the US for Mexicos criminals being armed is absurd. Mexico has a very lax approach when it comes to accountability in their goverment, and a more likely scenerio is that the weapons are their own goverments surplus that was sold to the cartels.

Mexico needs to clean up it’s own backyard before it comments on their neighbors. Secure the borders, and immediatly detain those who violate it, no matter what side they are from.

Needless to say, Mexico needs to treat this problem without the kid gloves.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

As a retired Police Officer I think that Mexico shold beef up their border patrol to stem the flow of weapons that are illegal in their country, this may also help stop the coyoties and illeagal aliens from entering our country.

It seems that the Mexican authorities still have not realized that the border goes both ways.
And the author spoke of after 911. Well it is my understanding that right after 911 Mexico cancelled the mutual defense treaty that was in place between them and America.

Let Mexico handle Mexican problems just as told us to do after 911.
The border swings in two directions.

Posted by Arnold Sachs | Report as abusive

What ridiculous comments. Mexico has lost 100’s of police officers and over 5,000 dead last year enforcing an anti-drug policy that benefits Americans. Meanwhile weapons flow south and not a single major king-pin has been caught north of the border. Do you really think the guy on the street corner is the one that gets the drugs from Mexico to New Hampshire? That requires complex logistics. The type the mob has. But where are the mob trials? We want to see heads roll, because they quite literally are rolling in Mexico.

Otherwise, we should just legalize drugs and let you Americans deal with your own problems. Remember, that drugs are a problem to the user, and we are not users. We are doing you guys the favor.

Posted by Bass | Report as abusive

PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK. Legalize the use and manufacture of drugs in the US and it will totally put all the Mexican drug cartels out of business overnight.,

The folks at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) have the right idea, google them and check their website..

All one needs to do is study basic economics and basic history. The cause of this problem is not weapons. The problem is caused by a failed misinformed drug policy in the US, (heavily promoted heavily from by the asinine religious right, which takes every opportunity to lead us down the illogical road to ruin at every opportunity).

Posted by Uncle Ned | Report as abusive

I didn’t realize that grenade launchers, LAW rocket launchers and frag grenades were FFL legal items for sale along the border states. Actual “assault rifles” are fully automatic and the last I checked they weren’t legal items for the average Joe (or Jose) either. These people are criminals obtaining illegal firearms and explosives for the most part. So why bring the number of “Federal Firearms Liscense” holders along these states under fire?

Posted by annonymous | Report as abusive

Mexico does not have a gun problem, it has a drug problem. Get rid of the drugs and you will see that the gun problem is simply ancillary.

Posted by spilman | Report as abusive

Ok, last time I checked you could not buy an M249 belt fed machine gun at a gun show in the southwest as the article indicates. I also dont believe that more extensive legislation in the US will work because it’s MEXICAN drug cartels that are violating the law and not AMERICAN citizens minding their own business. Mexico either needs to declare full scale WAR on their enemy, in their enemies homeland, or shut up and stop asking for our money, our help, and our sacrifices for their benefit.

Posted by calcop99 | Report as abusive

Just because Sarukhan is giving what some are calling “only part of the story” doesn’t mean he’s not providing half of the answer. If you make it more difficult to get guns, the COST of getting guns goes up. If you also legalize certain drugs like marijuana, then you decrease the profit to the cartels. Granted, this will not end cartels, but it will decrease their size and their presence.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

$30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
$550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

Posted by Abel Tsegga | Report as abusive

Just as the US has checkpoints along their borders with Mexico, no one, not one automobile goes without being checked for ilegal aliens and contraband, so why does Mexico complain that the weapons that are killing so many people are being sold by the US and sold to Mexicans, this is the responsability of the Mexican customs and authorities to check every vehicle, truck etc that crosses form the US into Mexico to search for weapons and contraband, don’t blame us for your ineptness and irresponsability to stop weapons from crossing into the US. Please note that NO ONE but NO ONE addresses this issue, this also creates corruption along the border with Mexican officials who take bribes to allow anything to get accross the border, needles to say, this is the problem, except no one addresses this, it is time to hold Mexico responsible for their poor judgement and behavior. Act accordingly all, Obama and Calderon, it doesnt take a genius to figure this out…

Posted by gerardo1016 | Report as abusive