US Guns Still Flowing Into Mexico on Peña Nieto’s Watch

State Department Program Is Easy Target for Weapon-Diversion Schemes

The value of private-sector weapons and related training delivered to Mexico during the first 10 months of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency tallied $78.4 million and was on par with similar defense-article shipments during two of the last three years of Felipe Calderón’s presidency.

That is significant because the Peña Nieto administration has gone to great lengths to downplay US intervention in Mexico’s drug war and instead worked to focus media attention on so-called economic reforms, such as opening up Mexican lands to US oil producers. The narrative pushed to date from Los Pinos is that Mexico is winning the drug war, with declining homicide numbers held up as the proof.

But the revelation that private US companies are continuing to flood Mexico legally with guns and ammo and other articles of war at a rate comparable to what played out under the bloody reign of former President Calderón seems to contradict the Pax Romana drug-war policies espoused by Peña Nieto.

In an editorial penned for the Washington Post in late November of 2012, only days before taking office officially on Dec. 1 of that year, Peña Nieto wrote that it would be “a mistake to limit our [US/Mexico] bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns.”

“When I meet with President Obama on Tuesday — just days before my inauguration — I want to discuss the best way to rearrange our common priorities,” Peña Nieto added. “Both of our nations are seriously affected by organized-crime activities and drug trafficking. Working against them must be a shared responsibility. I will continue the efforts begun by President Felipe Calderón, but the strategy must necessarily change.”

That change, however, does not appear to involve curbing the legally sanctioned flow of deadly hardware into Mexico, based on data released by the State Department on the sale of private-sector weapons to Mexico and other nations.

The U.S. State Department requires private companies in the United States to obtain an export license in order to sell defense hardware or services to foreign purchasers — which include both government units and private buyers in other countries. These arms deals are known as Direct Commercial Sales (DCS).

Each year, the State Department issues a report tallying the volume and dollar amount of DCS items approved for export and shipped. The most recent report covers fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30, 2013 — and includes the first 10 months of Peña Nieto’s initial year in office.

Narco News prorated the DCS data to generate a 10-month average to better compare the value of weapons hardware and services provided across the Peña Nieto and Calderón administrations. Using that formula, the prorated fiscal 2013 figure — based on Peña Nieto’s first 10 months in office — totaled $78.4 million.

In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, while Calderón was president, the 10-month prorated dollar value of DCS hardware and training provided to Mexico came in at $71 million and $81.6 million, respectively — or in the same ballpark as the fiscal 2013 prorated figure. The prorated value of DCS shipments did spike to $99.6 million in fiscal 2012, however — the last year of Calderón’s presidency.

But based on the DCS data for two of Calderón’s last three years in office, it appears that Peña Nieto has been no less hawkish than his predecessor when it comes to having an open-door policy toward US guns and bullets.

In fact, for the full 12 months of fiscal 2013, nearly $1.1 billion in defense articles and services were authorized for shipment to Mexico under the DCS program. However, not all approved DCS licenses are exercised in full in the same year they are authorized.

Shipments can be spread out over a four-year period, which accounts for the discrepancy between the $1.1 billion authorized in fiscal 2013 and the $94.1 million in DCS goods and services actually delivered to Mexico during the 12 months of that fiscal year. The discrepancy also indicates that a lot more deadly hardware is headed Mexico’s way in the years ahead.

Nearly $40 million of the fiscal 2013 DCS authorization for Mexico was for “Ammunition/Ordnance,” the State Department report shows. Interestingly, in fiscal 2012 (Calderón’s last year in office) some $48 million worth of “firearms, close assault weapons … guns over caliber .50 … flame throwers … [and] devices for launching or delivering ordnance,” among other small arms and gun components, were authorized under the DCS program for export to Mexico.

By contrast, for fiscal 2013, under Peña Nieto’s watch, only about $15 million in small-arms sales were authorized for export to Mexico via the DCS program. So it seems gun purchases were ramped up under the last year of Calderón’s presidency and Peña Nieto is now reloading those weapons for continued use.

In any event, these figures and trends do matter, because they can shed some light on the current homicide patterns playing out in Mexico under the Peña Nieto administration.

A report released in April of this year by the University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico Project, determined that during Peña Nieto’s first year in office, homicides overall in Mexico did decline by as much as 16 percent. However, a growing percentage of the homicides still occurring, the report states, are “attributable to drug-trafficking and organized crime groups.”

“… At least a third and as many as two-thirds of all intentional homicides in 2013 [Peña Nieto’s first year in office] bore characteristics of typical organized-crime related killings, including the use of high-caliber automatic weapons” — the very type of “weapons” being made available in spades through the US State Department’s DCS program.

The authors of the study, in an introduction to their report, conclude the following:

In contrast to his predecessor, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), President Peña Nieto appeared to deliberately downplay Mexico’s security problems, as well as his administration’s efforts to address them during the last year. However, as the authors discuss, crime and violence associated with organized crime remains a very serious problem in Mexico. Despite some definitive and much needed improvements in certain parts of the country, the overall security situation in Mexico remains much worse today than a decade ago and major improvements are still urgently needed.

As it is now, the DCS program is, at best, lightly regulated via a program that had a modest operating budget of $2.17 million in fiscal year 2012 — the most recent information available on the DCS end-use monitoring program known Blue Lantern. That year, State handled some 86,000 DCS license applications worldwide and only initiated 820 Blue Lantern checks — overseen by a staff of eight. A total of 706 cases were closed during the year and “unfavorable” findings were made in 144 cases, or 20 percent of the total, according to the FY 2012 Blue Lantern report.

Although individual nations are not identified in the report, the “Americas” region, which includes Mexico, recorded 16 unfavorable findings involving sales of “explosives, rockets, propellants, firearms, ammo and armor,” the Blue Lantern report states. A prior report by Narco News references a State Department cable made public by the whistleblower group WikiLeaks that revealed US officials were concerned about DCS weapons diversions in Mexico.

Weapons shipped to Mexico (like those approved via DCS) are first delivered to the Mexican Defense Ministry, which has a monopoly on approving and overseeing all licenses, sales, transport and storage of arms and munitions in Mexico, per Mexican law.

The Mexican military, which has been racked with desertions and corruption over the years, then redistributes the weapons to the end users, which can be private organizations or other governmental units, such as municipal and state police forces — which are infiltrated by criminal organizations.

From the Nov. 30, 2009, State Department cable:

…. On the basis of this and similar cases, [emphasis added] it is not evident that government officials at the state [level in Mexico] apply strict enforcement measures to track the chain of custody of weapons once SEDENA [Mexico's Secretariat of National Defense, which oversees the Army] transfers them from its custody to the custody of state officials. Given the lack of accountability for weapons once they arrive at the state level, U.S. law enforcement agencies have fair reason to worry that a number of weapons simply "disappear.”

It may well be that one of the security “improvements” Peña Nieto should press for, besides reforming Mexico’s weapons distribution system, is to assure that the US government also gets its house in order with respect to the DCS monitoring program — to insist that it is funded and staffed adequately to better control the river of iron flowing across the border.

But citizens on both sides of the border may have to wait a while for that to play out, given, like oil, the flow of weapons is quite profitable for all parties involved — other than for the people getting fracked.

Stay tuned…..

The DCS Reports can be found at this link.

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