For the past four years, Ioan Grillo traveled thousands of miles in crossings that took him from Mexico to the United States, Germany, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Colombia, while following a trail of iron and blood. In addition to the multi-million dollar figures and the cooling statistics, the author was looking for answers to an ethical dilemma.
Grillo asked an arms dealer in Bulgaria: “Are you worried that the weapons you legally sell may later fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists?” The man stared at him and said no.
That The Mexican government recently filed a lawsuit against major U.S. arms manufacturers and distributors at the federal court in Boston, arguing that their negligent business practices have triggered bloodshed in Mexico by marketing to the country’s criminal underworld, “facilitating the illicit trade in their weapons for drug cartels.”
The complex world of the arms trade and its intimate relationship to the rise of violence in countries like Mexico is the central theme of Grillo’s book published earlier this year, “Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels.” It is an extensive investigation that took Grillo around the world as he pursued designers, manufacturers, distributors, traders and criminals who were united with a single product: weapons.
“The arms industry, like the pharmaceutical industry, is fascinating because they move their products with the logic of globalized capitalism and the connections between their products. The big difference is that the weapons have serial numbers and can be traced, ”said Grillo, an English writer and journalist who has focused on covering and analyzing drug trafficking, violence and organized crime in Latin America for more than 20 years.
According to a February report from the US Government Accountability Office, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found “that 70 percent of firearms reported to have been recovered in Mexico from 2014 to 2018 and sent for tracing were sourced from the United States.”
According to the Mexican government, at least 17,000 killings in 2019 were linked to arms trafficking. Authorities estimate that more than 2.5 million cannons have crossed the southern border in the United States in the last decade.
Grillo’s works were cited in the lawsuit filed by the Mexican authorities.
During his most recent investigation, he was able to reconstruct the story of an AK-47 rifle from the factory that made it in Romania, through its exports to the United States, its sales, and its subsequent entry into Mexico — where it was used to murder a police officer.
“Manufacturers go to great lengths to hide tracking data from the public because they do not want to link stores that sell weapons to people’s deaths. They are ashamed, ”Grillo said.
Noticias Telemundo asked Grillo about the recent lawsuit and the findings of his book.
Noticias Telemundo: Many experts believe that Mexico’s lawsuit is a symbolic gesture given the legal shields of arms manufacturers in the United States. Do you think it will have any practical consequences?
Ioan Grillo: The lawsuit in Mexico is a different and very interesting initiative because in the United States, many changes have begun in various industries, such as pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, in the courts. This is important because there are 11 very large companies that will have to bring their lawyers and go through a legal process.
In addition, there are precedents such as the lawsuit against the Century Arms for the shooting in Gilroy, California in 2019 and the $ 33 million settlement that some families reached for the mass shooting at Sandy Hook School with Remington. The fact that this is being talked about in the news and that people are commenting on it is already a positive reaction.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Rifle Association responded to the trial, saying the Mexican government is responsible for the criminal boom in the country. What are your thoughts on that?
Cricket: The United States has a major responsibility for arms trafficking and violence in Mexico. Although the Mexican government needs to improve a lot, the influence of weapons arriving through the border cannot be denied. Imagine if Russia sent 2 million firearms to Germany and it generated a wave of violence with 200,000 deaths – that would be unthinkable, right? Manufacturers must take responsibility and see why their products fall into the hands of cartels.
It’s not uncommon for someone to walk into a store and buy 85 firearms – one in Florida buys a thousand guns for criminals who end up in Colombia or Puerto Rico and used for murder. This shows that no basic attempt is being made to slow down or reduce this traffic. And in the end, companies make a lot of money because there are millions of firearms.
In what year did your research reveal the increase in the flow of weapons to Mexico?
Cricket: From 1994 to 2004, there was a ban that greatly reduced the sale of weapons of war. When they abolished it, major registrations began to be registered, and the war in Mexico began before Felipe Calderón’s presidency. Between 2004 and 2006, assault weapons became available as fighting broke out between the Los Zetas and Sinaloa cartels. Then everything got worse.
What do the designers, manufacturers, and arms dealers you interviewed for your book think about the violence triggered by weapons?
Cricket: They often say that people have always used weapons and see them as tools that have a claim and they satisfy that. As long as they abide by the laws of their lands, they do not see it as strange. Therefore, governments need to adopt other measures to control this activity.
In many European countries, arms control has yielded good results.
Cricket: When the number of firearms in the streets is controlled, the number of deaths is reduced. In France, for example, after the terrorist attacks, restrictions were intensified and this has reduced the attacks. In fact, many [of the attacks] is with knives because the opportunities for terrorists and criminals to obtain firearms were shut down.
What is the biggest difference with the United States and Latin America?
Cricket: The explosion of mass shootings in the United States is one of the consequences of the absence of gun control. But there is a paradox, because just as there are many armed criminals, they also have many trained police officers and many prisons, so there is a definite order to attack organized crime.
In contrast, Latin American countries have thousands of firearms criminals, mostly from the United States, but they do not have good security forces or institutions to control the escalation of violence. In some countries, such as Venezuela and Brazil, gangs are constantly stealing police weapons.
What is the hybrid armed conflict mentioned several times in your latest book?
Cricket: It’s a concept from several academics that I present – when you have 700 hitmen facing an army, it’s something different than organized crime. It’s something that transcends the behavior of normal criminal gangs.
However, it will not be a civil war like the one you experienced in El Salvador in the 80s, so it is a constant conflict where you are in a seemingly normal society, and you can also have paramilitary groups with 200 guys entering. a city with trucks and leaves graves with 300 victims. And all this is happening at the same time as we are seeing in Mexico.
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