Arms trafficking: Alejandro Celorio: “The arms industry must assume the damage it has done”

Alejandro Celorio, during a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
Alejandro Celorio, during a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.Graciela López (DARK ROOM)

One country against 11 giants of the arms industry. That is the legal battle unleashed by the lawsuit that Mexico filed against illegal arms trafficking last August. At stake is the possibility of compensating tens of thousands of victims of armed violence in Mexican territory and receiving compensation estimated in billions of dollars. Yet bringing America’s top producers to the dock would be a milestone. It has never been done. That decision is now in the hands of a Massachusetts court. Alejandro Celorio, the official to whom the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has entrusted this task, is a lawyer who is not scared by sports metaphors and who says he is ready for combat. “We are going to win,” says the legal consultant to the Ministry of Foreign Relations in an interview. “Our demand is overwhelming: the arms industry must assume the damage it has done,” he adds.

Mexico’s claim is that the lawsuits have enriched themselves at the expense of arming criminal groups and drug cartels, without worrying about who they were selling to and where their products ended up. After four months of waiting, the manufacturers finally responded this Monday, the same day that Marcelo Ebrard, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, took the matter to the platform of the United Nations Security Council. The companies said the arguments against them were “vague” and asked that the lawsuit be dropped. They also questioned whether a foreign country had the legal powers to sue them and whether the dispute fell within the jurisdiction of a Massachusetts court. “How much these companies have to hide that do not even want to get to the stadium for the game, that from the outset they say ‘I don’t play,” Celorio says.

The manufacturers’ response was formulated together and there were also 11 individual counterarguments, one for each defendant company. The official accuses a strategy of “atomization”, a divide and conquer in which the arms producers seek to carry out separate trials in different courts, which would force the Mexican litigants to practically multiply themselves. “Your answer is as a booklet [de manual]They say: ‘I have nothing to do with it, it’s your fault and I go back to doing my business as I have been doing, ”he adds.

Celorio acknowledges that his opponents are big in size, but says wryly that they fall short in terms of moral stature. “We are facing a very powerful industry, companies that are experts in being sued,” he says. Mexican litigants already advanced that the arms industry’s strategy was to question their capacity as a government, saying that they were “corrupt and incompetent.” However, the instruction of the leader of the Mexican team is not to get hooked.

—And how they do to him not to be hooked?

– Gritting your teeth a lot. The advantage is that we already knew they would come around.

From his perspective, there are three key aspects to bring the Mexican cause to fruition. The first two are discipline so as not to fall into the excesses of media judgment and to highlight during the evidence presentation phase the route of the weapons from when they leave the factory until they fall into criminal hands, the so-called traceability. The third is the most challenging point: to dismantle the argument that current US laws give immunity to arms manufacturers in lawsuits initiated by third parties. The foundation is in the Law of Protection to the Legal Trade in Arms (PLCAA), a statute lobbied and promoted by themselves during the George W. Bush Administration and the armor that has prevented them from being brought to trial before.

To get around this obstacle, Mexico’s argument is that PLCAA cannot be applied extraterritorially because the damages claimed occurred south of the border. That will be one of the issues that the Mexican government will present in response to the allegations of the manufacturers, no later than January 31 next. Celorio anticipates that the position will be to insist on the negative impact of arms trafficking and support those claims with testimonies from victims, experts and allies of the anti-arms movement.

“I will continue with the litigation as long as necessary,” says Celorio and points out that talking about an agreement out of court is premature and says that it is completely ruled out, at least for now. “If the conversation were, how much are they going to pay us…”, he says before pausing. “But this is not about the money, we want them to comply, to cease their negligent business practices, to modify their protocols, the way they conduct their business,” he insists.

Manufacturers promote their pistols and rifles with legends such as “the boss” or images of Emiliano Zapata, an icon of the Mexican Revolution, especially of the agrarian struggle. That also falls into what the Mexican government wants to finish. “I would like to see perhaps a sign that says these weapons kill or, as in cigarette packs, that put explicit images of the damage caused by a bullet from those weapons,” he explains about the reparation measures that would be requested. The process, however, is going on for a long time. At the end of February there will be a new round of counterarguments from the defendant companies and then the judge will have to decide whether to admit the claim to trial or not. That is, there are at least several months to go.

While the fate of the case is being decided, Mexico figures the trafficking of at least 10 million illegal weapons circulating in the country, at a rate of half a million weapons that have entered from the United States each year in the last two decades. In contrast, a cash court by the Ministry of National Defense indicated two years ago that there were only 30,724 legally licensed weapons in Mexico. Celorio trusts that the demand and the Government’s strategy to combat the problem from other fronts, such as diplomatic or political fronts, will promote the creation of a national registry of weapons that is updated and that brings the State closer to recovering the monopoly of force. . Still, gun violence is behind seven out of 10 murders so far this year, according to official figures.

The civil lawsuit addresses a problem that dates back decades, but responds to a specific trigger, curiously outside the country: the massacre at the hands of a white supremacist in a supermarket in El Paso (Texas), in August 2019. The attacker killed 23 people and left another 23 injured, the majority of Mexican origin. Two years later, Mexico is looking for “its day in court” and is at stake, for now, precisely that: the possibility of taking its case to court. “Going to court does not mean that we have already won,” says Celorio in the final stretch of the interview, “it will be the whistle to start the game.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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