In Mexico, violence related to drug smuggling has claimed around 30,000 lives in recent years, and many Mexicans are wondering if President Felipe Calderon’s war on the criminal gangs is succeeding.
The United States is assisting Mexico in its war on the drug cartels, but demand for illicit drugs in the United States is largely to blame for the problem.
In a secure building inside the Mexican Ministry of Defense compound in Mexico City, displays of items seized in raids tell the story of drug trafficking. On display are samples of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs.
The most impressive collection in the narco-museum contains guns seized by the military.
Many high-powered, fully automatic rifles such as those on display are readily available in Central America and can easily be smuggled across Mexico’s porous border with Guatemala.
But most of the gaudily-decorated pistols originated up north.
Many semiautomatic pistols on display were confiscated from drug traffickers and have been traced to gun shops in the United States.
Mexican soldiers and police killed in gun battles have often been victims of guns smuggled into the country by the same gangs that are smuggling drugs out of the country.
Mexican authorities have said 90 percent of confiscated weapons are from the United States, but the tracing, done with U.S. assistance, began by identifying guns of U.S. manufacture, so the figure is skewed.
Many of the guns confiscated in México are those owned by honest citizens who have them for self-protection.
Gun ownership is severely restricted in Mexico. In the United States, it is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, but these fully-automatic weapons and grenades taken from drug cartel killers cannot be legally sold in U.S. stores.
Still, Mexico City-based security expert Ana Maria Salazar says the United States must do its part to stop gun smuggling. “Clearly not all the guns the cartels have access to are coming exclusively from the United States, but it is also true that the largest percentage of these guns are coming from the United States,” she says, “and it is simply because it is just very easy to get guns in the United States and very easy to bring them back into Mexico.”
U.S. federal agents have stepped up inspection of vehicles going into Mexico and have arrested a number of U.S. citizens who purchased guns in stores and then sold them to Mexican smugglers.
While the violence in Mexico has not yet spilled over the U.S. border in any large way, it very well could someday and Ms. Salazar says U.S. officials should be doing everything they can to help Mexico win this war. “At the end of the day it is in the U.S. interest to make sure that Mexico is a peaceful, prosperous neighbor, just because of the large border that there is between the two countries,” Ms. Salazar said.
And, she says, since drug consumers in the United States supply the cartels with enormous amounts of money, the U.S. government is morally obligated to help Mexico confront these violent organizations.