Mexico begins a diplomatic offensive to stop arms trafficking from the United States

Mexico awaits this Monday the response of 11 major US arms manufacturers sued for trafficking arms. The answer is the next step in an important litigation with which the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador intends to compensate part of the damage of decades of drug trafficking violence. The Administration has gone on the offensive on one of the oldest — and most complicated — issues for the bilateral relationship. The Mexican diplomatic corps in the North American nation has been instructed to make the issue a priority while Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard opens the debate within the United Nations (UN) in search of allies.

Marcela Celorio, the consul of Mexico in Los Angeles, explained that the civil suit is for “negligent business practices and lack of corporate responsibility.” “It’s about holding companies accountable,” said the ambassador, who criticizes how companies have adapted their products to the Mexican market. Among these are those of Colt, one of the defendants, who has among his pistols the .38 caliber The boss; .38 caliber The Scream and the Emiliano Zapata 1911, which has the phrase attributed to the revolutionary inscribed in the barrel: “It is better to die standing than live on your knees.” These models are coveted by Mexican drug traffickers. One of the hitmen who murdered journalist Miroslava Breach in 2017 used one of these weapons. Between 70% and 90% of the weapons recovered at crime scenes in Mexico entered illegally through the northern border.

“When one compares the graphs of arms sales in the United States with those of murders in Mexico, the correlation is very important, like 80%,” says Eugenio Weigend, a specialist in armed violence at the Center for American Progress. Three factors have triggered trafficking from the north: a substantial increase in the production of assault weapons since the mid-2000s; the relaxation of state regulations for acquiring weapons and the practically non-existent regulation of weapons expos and online purchases.

The border between the two countries is a red-hot zone for this trade. While the entire world is witnessing the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants from the South at the gates of the United States, at the same time there is an invisible traffic in reverse. Mexico estimates the volume of trafficking at half a million weapons a year, which amounts to about 10 million in two decades. One can get an idea of ​​the strength of the business by the number of armories that have sprung up along the 3,000-plus-kilometer border. A decade ago there were 8,354 registered vendors in the four border states (California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas). By 2019, 1,569 more had been registered despite the fact that the number of national distributors had decreased by close to 2%. The armories of the border dispatch twice as many weapons as the rest of the stores in the country, according to figures from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Weapons Office, an agency that has been headless for six years due to the reluctance of Republicans to confirm an appointment. .

The Mexican offensive on the issue requires a delicate political fit in a country where the right to own arms is protected by the Constitution. “This lawsuit does not question the laws, policies or actions of the United States or its Government,” argues the Mexican side in the litigation, filed in August. “The case has nothing to do with the second amendment … The cartels are not protected by the second amendment and the defendants do not have the right to supply them with weapons,” the text continues.

Members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel show the press their high-powered weapons after taking the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacán, last April.
Members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel show the press their high-powered weapons after taking the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacán, last April. Darkroom

Steve Shadowen, the strategist for the Mexican prosecution, believes that the eleven companies, Smith & Wesson; Barrett, Beretta, Century International Arms, Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Glock; Sturm, Ruger & Co., Witmer Public Safety Group and their subsidiaries will ask the judge to dismiss the case as having no basis. The lawyer based in Austin (Texas) explains that the companies are shielded from lawsuits initiated by third parties on US soil by a series of laws passed by Congress in 2005, during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Mexican team defends that these regulations do not have an extraterritorial scope and since the damages occurred in Mexico, the companies do not enjoy legal immunity. This matter has been repeatedly brought up at the bilateral negotiating table, with extensive presentations by senior Mexican officials to their US counterparts.

“What we are looking for with this case is a court order that requires manufacturers to reform the weapons distribution system. That would be very important, that they take these precautions into account, ”explains Shadowen, who came into contact with the Mexican authorities in 2019 after the anti-Mexican massacre in El Paso, which left 22 dead. The lawyer anticipates that the litigation will extend for several years and does not rule out that it will reach the Supreme Court, as has happened with other cases on the right to arm oneself. The Mexican State has agreed to pay Shadowen’s law firm, which will work with reduced fees, one million dollars a year, he reported. Reuters.

After two years of work on the civil lawsuit, a source from the Foreign Ministry tells EL PAÍS that “it is not a surprise” that the defendant companies present their response as a block. Regardless of what happens, this Monday, Ebrard will put the issue on the table at the UN Security Council. “The lawsuit is not won or lost this Monday, but it is important because we will know what your defense will be,” he says. In Foreign Affairs they expect, as a response from the manufacturers, a smear campaign. “They will say that Mexico is to blame because it has bad customs, a porous border and that it is a corrupt country,” they say. Beyond the constant flow of weapons from the north, the López Obrador government has shown many problems in countering the violence.

Specialists like Weigend describe the litigation as audacious, which does not find a similar case. Perhaps because few like Mexicans, in addition to other South Americans, have contributed to the tragic balance of violence. The analyst applauds the chosen judicial route. The lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts, where the chances of the case falling into the hands of a circuit with conservative judges are reduced.

The next key date is February 28, the deadline to answer the arguments presented by the companies this Monday. In a positive scenario, the proofing phase will start at this point next year. “That will be our gold mine, the core of the litigation,” they say in Foreign Affairs. “An agreement out of court is ruled out,” advance the sources, who explain that the lawsuit was filed by the State and not on behalf of the tens of thousands of victims to prevent the companies “from seeking to give individual compensation.” The repair figure that had been handled months ago was in the billions of dollars. To get there, the Government must first cross a long judicial labyrinth.

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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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