Friday, February 17, 2012

Mexico to US: 'No More Weapons!'

In a dramatic attempt to draw attention to the United States’ role as a source of weapons for Mexican drug cartels, Mexican President Felipe Calderon unveiled a massive billboard on the US border yesterday which calls on American officials to stop the flow of guns to the south. The sign, which weighs three tons, reads “No More Weapons!” in English, and its letters are comprised entirely of US guns seized by police officials in recent years.  

At the unveiling ceremony, Calderon said that the country needed help from its partners in the US to “stop this terrible violence that we're suffering," adding that "the best way to do this is to stop the flow of automatic weapons into Mexico.”

According to a July 2011 analysis of data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) authored by three US Senators, 70 percent of the 29,284 traceable weapons seized in Mexico from 2009 to 2010 came from the United States. In speeches and comments to the press, Calderon usually claims that 85 percent of guns used by cartels come from the US. In 2009 ATF officials put the figure even higher, telling Congress that it was around 90 percent.

The gun control lobby has disputed all of these claims, however, pointing out that only a fraction of the guns seized in Mexico have been traced, and thus these figures do not amount to a representative sample. Still, even when compared to the total number of guns seized (traceable or otherwise), the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s calculates that the percentage of guns which originate in the US is around 36 percent.

Ultimately, whether or not the US is providing 36 percent or 90 percent (or anything in between) is not the issue. At the very least it is clear that US gun stores are a significant source of weaponry to Mexico’s cartels, and captured cartel members have even confirmed it. Instead of bickering about the exact percentage, US officials would do better to put measures in place to keep any weapons sold in the US outside of the hands of Mexico’s drug gangs. Considering the political fallout from the disastrous Fast and Furious program, however, a truly comprehensive remedy to the issue is not likely to come from Washington any time soon.

News Briefs

·         In the wake of the fire in Honduras’ Comayagua prison which killed at least 358 inmates earlier this week, the country is facing severe criticism from media sources and activists alike. The New York Times points out that less than half of the inmates at Comayagua had ever been convicted of a crime. The AP reports that the incident “exposed just how deep government dysfunction and confusion go in Honduras,” and rights groups are blaming the tragedy on negligence the overcrowded state of penal facilities in the country.  Both the US and Chile have sent forensic experts and materials to help identify the bodies.

·         Reuters reports that US border authorities are tightening security in remote areas of the US-Mexico border, despite data which suggests that undocumented immigration is at its lowest since 1972.

·         Leftist Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is currently in third place in the polls, has announced that he may retire from politics if he does not win the race. According to Excelsior, the candidate claims he is “tired and has less vigor” than he did six years ago, when he lost to Calderon in the 2006 elections but fiercely contested the results.

·         Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrapped up a visit to Haiti yesterday by issuing a veiled criticism of Haitian President Michel Martelly's plans to rebuild Haiti's army, which was disbanded in 1995. At a news conference, Rice described the Haitian National Police as “the body that can best provide daily protection for the Haitian people,” and should devote its resources to strengthening the police force. Martelly has argued otherwise, claiming that a new military is needed to restore security in the country.

·         InSight Crime reports on a recent wave of potentially targeted killings of army personnel by gangs in El Salvador, which lends credence to recent reports by police officials that gangs are plotting a nation-wide attack on security forces.

·         After Ecuador’s Supreme Court ratified a verdict which forces three journalists to pay $42 million in libel damages for publishing a piece critical of President Rafael Correa, the Panamanian government has granted political asylum to one of them. According to El Universo, the newspaper which published the material in question, Carlos Perez sought refuge in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito.

·         Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seemingly evaded questions from reporters yesterday about whether or not his government has sold diesel fuel to Syria, potentially undermining US sanctions to the country. Reuters reported that a $50 million shipment of diesel was expected to arrive at Syrian ports this week. When pressed on the matter, Chavez told reporters that his country is free to export fuel anywhere it wishes.

·         Meanwhile, just days after Henrique Capriles Radonski won last Sunday’s opposition primary, Chavez has begun to strike out at his opponent with his usual flair. Chavez said of Capriles at a ceremony for graduating medical students: “You have a pig's tail, a pig's ears, you snort like a pig, you're a low-life pig. You're a pig, don't try and hide it.”

·         Although the proposed release of six hostages by Colombia’s FARC rebels has stalled, Colombia has officially requested that Brazil take part in staging their release.

·         The Economist takes a look at Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office, noting that she has succeeded at stepping out from under the shadow of her popular predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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