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The Small Arms Trade in Latin America

The Small Arms Trade in Latin America

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Published by Daniel
Relatório sobre a proliferação ilegal de armas na América Latina.
Relatório sobre a proliferação ilegal de armas na América Latina.

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Published by: Daniel on Sep 21, 2011
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07/04/2014

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NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS
report : guns
S
mall
 
arms
 
and
 
gun
 
violence
 
present
 
the
 most dramatic threat to public saety inLatin America and the Caribbean. Aterdecades o uncontrolled prolieration, at least45 million to 80 million small arms and lightweapons—that is, weapons operated by an in-dividual or small group, including handguns,assault ries, grenades, grenade launchers, andeven man portable surace to air missiles—arecirculating throughout the region.
1
Gunshotskill between 73,000 and 90,000 people eachyear in Latin America, and guns are the lead-ing cause o death among Latin Americans be-tween the ages o 15 and 44, according to WorldHealth Organization estimates.
2
Small arms ooded Latin America during theCold War, most signifcantly during the Central American civil wars o the 1980s. Although di-verse motivations, channels, and suppliers havehad a hand in their prolieration, the Cold Warand its legacies bear most o the responsibility.Both the United States and the Soviet Unionsupplied their Latin American allies with massquantities o weapons through proxy arms deal-ers. The Soviets and their Warsaw Pact alliessent weapons to Cuba, which then passed themto the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
3
In response, the United States oten providedits Central American allies, like the counter-revolutionary Nicaraguan Contras, with Sovietweaponry, most notably the AK-47, in orderto maintain ofcial “deniability” o its involve-ment in the conicts. The U.S. military allegedlymaintained warehouses o Soviet-bloc weaponsthat were distributed throughout the region.
4
 The United States also used third countries,including Israel, to supply the Contras. In ElSalvador, the Farabundo Martí National Libera-tion Front received AK-47s rom the Honduranmilitary, which had raided the CIA’s Nicaraguansupplies.
5
Caches o Cold War–origin weaponsare still being ound in Latin America.Today, most legal weapons in Latin Americacome rom the United States, Europe, or thesmall but growing regional arms industry. Be-cause the international small-arms trade lacksull transparency, and a signifcant portion o the trade is illicit, it is difcult to know the
14
By Rachel Stohl and Doug Tuttle
Rachel Stohl andDoug Tuttle areSenior Analyst andResearch Assistant,respectively, at theCenter for DefenseInformation inWashington, D.C.(www.cdi.org).
The United States and Soviet Union flooded Latin America with Kalashnikov rifles, like these AK-15s, during the Cold War.
   D   e   m   i   a   n   C   h   a   v   e   z   /   L   a   T   i   n   P   h   O   T   O .   O   r   g
The Small Arms Tradein Latin America
 
MARCH/APRIL 2008
report: guns
types and estimate the quantities o weapons that Latin American countries import. According to data providedby the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transers, in2005 Latin America legally imported at least $175 mil-lion worth o small arms and light weapons, as well asammunition and spare parts. The United States was themain supplier to the region, exporting almost $50 millionworth o these weapons. Other major suppliers to Latin America that year included Belgium, the Czech Republic,Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia, South Arica, and Spain.The same 2005 data reveals that the vast majorityo the $29 million worth o U.S. small arms owing toSouth America went to Colombia. Mexico imported $10million worth, almost as much as all the small arms thatCentral America and the Caribbean imported combined.
6
  Venezuela, meanwhile, spent $10 million on small armsand other weapons and supplies rom Belgium. Venezuelaalso made a controversial purchase o 100,000 AK-47sworth about $4 million rom Russia that year, in a dealthat included co-production rights.Traditionally, Latin American countries have not pro-duced enough weapons to meet their domestic militaryneeds and have relied on imports to fll their arsenals. While almost every country in Latin America manuac-tures small arms to some extent, production capabilitiesvary greatly throughout the region.
7
In 2005, Brazil, Mex-ico, Argentina, and Chile were the largest regional pro-ducers o small arms, and also the our largest regionalexporters, transerring $15.5 million, $3.6 million, $3.2million, and $657,000 worth o weapons, respectively,to other Latin American countries.
8
Still, Latin Ameri-can small-arms production is relatively small in scope. According to the Small Arms Survey, only about 4% o the small-arms-producing companies in the world are lo-cated in South America, on par with sub-Saharan Aricaand the Middle East.
9
However, in August, 2007, Russia’sIzhevsk Manuacturing Plant announced it had fnalizedthe deal to build two actories in Venezuela to produce AK-103 assault ries and their 7.62 mm ammunition.Construction on the actories began at the end o 2007and is scheduled to be completed by 2010. The U.S. andColombian governments have complained that the Ven-ezuelan military’s stockpiles o 7.62 mm FN FAL ries,which the new AK-103s will replace, might be divertedto Colombian guerrillas.
10
On top o these ofcially approved arms transers, theillicit small arms trade in Latin America is thriving. Theregion is a smuggler’s paradise: A vast coastline, denselyorested mountains, porous borders, clandestine airstrips,widespread government corruption, a lack governmen-tal resources and political will to conront the trade, andentrenched and powerul narco-trafckers—all havecontributed to the unregulated ow o weapons, drugs,and people. The triborder area o Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina has become a particularly lucrative cross-bordersmuggling region. Smuggled goods in this area, includingweapons and narcotics, are valued between $2 billion and$3 billion annually.
11
Hezbollah runs much o the area’ssmuggling activities, using profts to support activities inthe western hemisphere and the Middle East.
12
 But the region’s largest and most sophisticated black-market arms-trafcking network serves the ongoingarmed conict in Colombia, which has ueled an inormalarms race between paramilitaries, guerrillas, and privatecitizens. Anecdotal evidence suggests that large quanti-ties o small arms, bound or Colombian guerrillas andparamilitaries alike, arrive in Central America via searoutes and are then routed through Panama, which actsas the largest single transit hub or Colombia’s weapons.Researchers have identifed 37 trafcking routes romPanama into Colombia, 26 rom Ecuador, 21 rom Ven-ezuela, and 14 rom Brazil, according to a RAND study.
13
The U.S.-Mexican border is also a central routethrough which illicit small arms enter Latin America. A study released by the Mexican government suggeststhat as many as 2,000 guns are crossing the U.S.-Mexicoborder daily. As in Colombia, these guns are uelling anarms race, in this case between Mexican drug cartels,costing the lives o 4,000 people in 18 months.
14
Weap-ons, including assault ries like AK-47s, AR-15s, andM-16s, etch up to three times their U.S. market value inMexico, assuring a continued southward ow o weap-ons. (See “Guns: The U.S. Threat to Mexican NationalSecurity,” page 21.)In addition to international smuggling, the diversiono domestic production and privately owned stocks con-tributes to illicit ownership in Latin America. Domesticproduction is most important in Brazil; about 80% o the illegal guns in Rio de Janeiro are made domestically,according to the Small Arms Survey, and police recordsindicate that between April 1999 and June 2005, 72%o illegal frearms seized by Brazilian police were domesti-cally made.
15
The majority o these frearms were legallyproduced and sold, and then diverted to illicit marketsthrough sale, trade, or thet.Crat production—crude, small-scale, handmade pro-duction o weapons—has been documented in Chile,Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and El Salvador, and also u-els the illicit trade. In Chile, or example, crat productionis economically insignifcant but used to provide weap-
15
 
NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS
report: guns
ons or criminal groups. Homemade frearms, known as
armas hechizas
, are used by street gangs or local crime. Although not exported, the weapons are used regularlyby groups that have difculty acquiring weapons becauseo short supplies and strict legal restrictions ongun purchases.
16
In parts o Central America,youth gangs assemble makeshit pistols out o bedsprings and metal tubing. In Santa Ana,El Salvador, inormal workshops can produceimitations o .22- and .38-caliber pistols.
17
 More sophisticated and larger-scale crat pro-duction also takes place. Since the 1990s, theRevolutionary Armed Forces o Colombia(FARC) and Colombian drug cartels have beenproducing 9 mm submachine guns that mimicthe U.S.-made Intratec 9, better known as theSaturday Night Special. Similar types o cratproduction have also begun to emerge in Rio de Janeiroand São Paulo, Brazil.
18
R
egardless
 
of
 
the
 
source
,
small
 
arms
 
in
 
latin
 
 America have led to a variety o crises through-out the region. Ironically, gun violence in manycountries actually increased ater ormal warare end-ed. For example, in El Salvador, which experiencedone o Latin America’s most brutal civil wars rom1980 to 1992, the percentage o homicides causedby irearms increased rom 55% in 1990–95 to 75%in 1999.
19
The Inter-American Development Bank(IADB) estimates that almost a quarter o the country’sannual GDP is spent addressing the growing violence. Yet weapons continue to stream into El Salvador andthe rest o Central America, mostly rom the UnitedStates. For example, between 1996 and 1999 the U.S.government delivered $376,000 in small arms to Cos-ta Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama, while inthe same period more than $66 million in authorizedprivate sales rom the United States lowed to the samecountries.
20
Uncontrolled small arms are responsible or in-creased irearm homicides and increasing gang vio-lence.
21
In the avelas o Brazil, the murder rate oryoung men aged 15 to 24 is 113.8 per 100,000. In2001, irearms caused 65% o deaths among youngmen aged 15 to 19.
22
In Ecuador, more than 1,000inormal youth groups are involved with organizedarmed violence in the country. Shiting crime patternsand availability o guns in Jamaica let more than 200children between the ages o 10 and 19 hospitalizedrom gunshot wounds in 2000 alone.
23
 Although the majority o conicts in Latin Americaconcluded soon ater the end o the Cold War, somecontinue and others have reignited. Exacerbated bythe ready availability o small arms on international,regional, and domestic markets, the 40-year civil war in Colombia continues tocost thousands o lives and displaces mil-lions o people. In Haiti, a country pre-cariously perched between war and peace,armed gangs are employed to use violencein an attempt to destroy the ragile peaceprocess, as corrupt ofcials and drug tra-fckers exploit the instability caused by thecontinual violence.Furthermore, these weapons threateneconomic development. Gun violenceburdens communities with higher healthcare costs, reducing productivity and discouraging in-vestment. Compared to other types o violent trauma,gunshot wounds exact a higher cost in Latin America. A 2003 study by the Small Arms Survey in Rio de Ja-neiro, or example, ound that the average medicalcost o a single gunshot wound was $4,500, almostthree times the cost o a stab wound.
24
Gun violenceexacts almost $90 million in health costs in Brazil and$40 million in Colombia, while productivity losses areestimated at $10 billion and $4 billion or the twocountries, respectively.
25
 The United Nations Development Program has es-timated the cost o violence in El Salvador at 11.5%o the country’s GDP. Moreover, a 1999 report by theInter-American Development Bank estimates that vio-lence costs Latin America $16.8 billion, or 14.2% o itsGDP.
26
The IADB also estimates that the per capita GDPin Latin America would be 25% higher i crime rateswere more on par with the rest o the world. In otherwords, the prolieration and misuse o frearms under-mines growth, threatens human welare, negativelyimpacts business, threatens investment, and hindersdevelopment throughout the region.
27
Small arms have become both the currency and com-modity o the drug trade. A nebulous and mutually re-inorcing relationship between frearms, narcotics, andgangs uels the trade in both guns and drugs. Guer-rilla movements, street gangs, and organized criminalsyndicates perpetuate the demand or guns throughcompetition, intimidation, and violence. Weapons are ahallmark o the drug trade at every stage, rom cultiva-tion to distribution. In Costa Rica, peasants have beenarmed with AK-47s to protect marijuana plantations,
16
Small arms havebecome both thecurrency and com-modity of the drugtrade. Weapons areits hallmark at everystage, from cultiva-tion to distribution.

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