Growing insecurity in LA, linked to arms trafficking: report

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The growing insecurity in Latin America, not only in traditionally violent countries like Colombia or Central America, but now in others like Ecuador, is closely related to linked to the high number of firearms that flood the continent despite the fact that it has stricter laws regarding the possession of this type of weapon than there are in the United States, where a good part of them come from.

The homicide rate in the region has been increasing in recent years. According to the 2022 data collected by the specialized portal Insight Crime, Venezuela registered the highest rate, with 40.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Honduras, with 35.8; Colombia, with 26.1; Ecuador, with 25.9; and Mexico, with 25.2.

Although in Chile the rate stands at 5 per 100,000, very far from the most violent countries, homicides have doubled in the last decadegenerating concern among citizens -50% identify crime as the most important issue at the national level-.

The leftist government Gabriel Boric has increased spending on security and it has even deployed the Army to try to resolve the migration crisis on the border with Peru, which has not prevented the right wing from winning the recent elections to elect those who should draft the country's new Constitution.

Also in Ecuador, the alarming levels of violence have been key in the political crisis that the country is going through, where the president, Guillermo Lasso, has dissolved the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition, given the impossibility of governing. Here, the president authorized in early April the "possession and carrying of weapons for civilian use for personal defense," among other measures to try to curb the incipient insecurity, linked to the rise of drug trafficking.

“A key factor behind this epidemic of gun violence is the diversion, and illicit trafficking, of small arms and light weapons throughout the region”, emphasizes Carina Solmirano, expert at the head of the Arms Trade Treaty Observatory (ATT Monitor) at Control Arms, a coalition of organizations that are committed to greater control in this matter in an article for Americas Quarterly.

Precisely, the latest report prepared in 2018 by the ATT Monitor shows that more than 75% of homicides in the region involve firearms, very far from the world average of 40%. In addition, Latin America has 10 of the 15 countries with the highest homicide rates outside of an armed conflict.

According to the 2018 Small Arms Survey estimates, that year there were some 60 million weapons in the possession of the civilian population in the region, with 17.5 million in Brazil and 16.8 million in Mexico, a good part of which are not legally registered. To these must be added the around 8.8 million in possession of the State security forces and bodies, and those held by private security companies, a business on the rise in Latin America.

“The millions of illegal weapons circulating in the region and the persistent trafficking between countries and from the United States have allowed the activities of criminal organizations to expand and It has made their activities even more violent.” Solmirano denounces, linking the growing levels of armed violence in the hemisphere to drug trafficking.

The origin of the illegal light weapons circulating in Latin America is diverse, depending on when and how they are diverted from legal channels. A good part of them has its origin in the armed conflicts that devastated countries like Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua decades ago. According to the aforementioned ATT Monitor report, at the end of the civil war in El Salvador, it is estimated that some 360,000 military-type weapons were not delivered.

Nevertheless, The United States would be the main source of this illicit arms trade. In many cases, according to ATT Monitor, a person legally acquires weapons in the United States but then takes them out illegally, Mainly to Mexico but also to other countries in the region.

According to estimates, some 253,000 firearms purchased through these 'straw men' crossed the border between the two countries every year between 2010-2012. Also, the 70% of the weapons seized by the Mexican authorities between 2009 and 2014, more than 73,000 originated in the United States, which confirms the level of this traffic.

Another avenue for the illegal arms trade is the forgery or unauthorized use of end-user certificates. In conflicts such as the one experienced in Colombia, cases were found in which legal a priori purchases were diverted thanks to falsified certificates and corrupt officials towards armed groups.

The corruptionone of the endemic problems of the continent, also plays a key role in this whole process of arms diversion. Members of the security forces and corrupt officials have made state arsenals an important source of supply for armed groups and drug traffickers in Latin America.

And if in the past the Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, delivered weapons to the warring parties in El Salvador, for example, now it is suspected that the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro delivers weapons to the National Liberation Army (ELN), the second guerrilla in Colombia, according to the aforementioned report.

The proliferation of private security groups in the region also contributes to illegal arms trafficking. According to ATT Monitor, it is estimated that there are some 16,000 companies that employ at least 2.4 million people.

Thus, it is estimated that there are two private security agents for every police officer on the subcontinent, although the figure is even higher in countries like Brazil, Colombia or Mexico as well as in Central America. The lack of regulation and supervisory mechanisms for these private companies and their weapons makes it easier for abuses to be committed and for part of the weapons they use to end up on the black market.

The diversion of small arms and light weapons “it continues to be a serious problem in the Latin American and Caribbean region”according to ATT Monitor, which also recognizes the complexity of dealing with it and warns that it is not the exclusive responsibility of these countries, particularly stressing the role of exporting countries to ensure the final destination of their sales and in particular the United States.

On the other hand, violence has a significant economic cost for these countries. According to a 2017 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study, crime costs Latin America 3% of its GDP, in a range that goes from 2.42% to 3.55% and in which the Central American countries come out worse off. Here, the cost is twice the regional average.

This translates into a total cost of up to 236,000 million dollars and an average of 300 dollars per capita in the 17 countries analyzed. As Solmirano warns, "it is very likely that these costs would be much higher today if the same variables were measured again", given that Latin America was one of the regions hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In these circumstances, according to the expert, the “militarization of public security”, as has occurred in Mexico or Brazil, has not provided the desired results. For this reason, it is committed to other measures such as an improvement in the security of arsenals, greater destruction of confiscated weapons or more information exchange, and warns that a "comprehensive approach that reduces the global demand for weapons" is needed to prevent Latin America continues to be "the most violent region in the world."

(With information from Europe Press)

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