20 Dec 2010

Grim milestone in Mexico's drug wars

2:16 pm on 20 December 2010

Mexico's drug wars have reached another grim milestone with the 3000th murder this year in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

Mayor Jose Reyes Feriz partly blames the bloodshed on illegal trafficking of guns from the United States. Ciudad Juarez is across the border from El Paso in Texas.

The weapons are either stolen or bought by "straw" purchasers - American citizens or green-card holders in need of a little extra cash.

The BBC reports that since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, more than 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico.

In the same time, Mexican police and the army have seized 93,000 guns from drug traffickers.

A 2009 report to Congress by the US Government Accountability Office reports that more than 90% of the "firearms seized in Mexico and traced over the past three years came from the United States".

Approximately 40% of these originated in Texas.

Firepower equal to military's sought

The BBC reports the cartels are seeking firepower equal to that of the Mexican military.

A federal agent based in Houston with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms says small-calibre handguns and single-barrel shotguns were being seen in the 1990s but since 2004 there has been an "upswing in military-style weapons - like AK47 and AR-15 clones and high-capacity 9mm pistols".

"Whatever the Mexican military is using, the cartels want," he told the BBC.

Currently, there is no dedicated federal statute addressing arms trafficking. Most prosecutions end in a fine or modest prison sentence for "straw" purchasers.

But Mexican media have estimated the annual turnover of the US-Mexican drugs trade as being up to $US40 billion.

State of siege in Guatemalan province

Meanwhile the government in Guatemala has declared a state of siege in a province it says is controlled by Mexican drug traffickers.

A government spokesperson says the measure will be in effect in the province of Alta Verapaz for 30 days.

About 500 police and soldiers are conducting door-to-door searches for suspected members of the Los Zetas drug gang.