"It's just another little garden-variety act of war between hemispheric friends. What's the big deal?"
"Why would ATF walk guns to Honduras?" asks a reader. That's easy.
First, and this is important to understand: the Tampa operation proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that "Project Gunwalker" was a national strategy, not a Phoenix aberration. The "major media" has been slow to understand this. They have ignored the fact that the Houston Field Division had to have played a supervisory role in known straw buying incidents in Dallas and Columbus NM as they are in their area of operations, not Phoenix's. Original reporting on this subject from Texas has been pitiful.
Second, Honduras is where the action is.
As Borderland Beat reported back in November of last year, Honduras: Mexican Cartels Work Closely with Street Gangs.
Attorney General Roy David Urtecho says that street gangs in his country are seeking to establish direct business contacts with Colombian and Mexican cartels and they have also tried to take over all drug smuggling operations in the Central American nation of Honduras.
The gangs known as MS-13 and M-18, have recruited over 70,00 youths who have traditionally been the lookouts and sicarios for the capos, but they are now making an effort to take formal control of the drug trade within their own country.
Commenting at an international forum on law enforcement, Urtecho says that the Sinaloa cartel is one of the main groups that maintain a heavy presence in the area, and states that his country is an imprtant gateway for Colombian drugs to enter Mexico and the United States. He went further to say that Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán has stayed in Honduras at various times and continues to do so to this very day.
Writing at Insight on 14 April, Patrick Cocoran has more: Mexican Cartels Expand into Honduras
Honduran officials report that Mexican drug traffickers are expanding their activities in the country and forming links with local bosses in four different provinces, fuelling concerns that organized crime is overwhelming the region.·
According to Prensa Latina, Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said that the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas have been detected in Ocotepeque, Copan, Colon and Atlantida. The four northern states form much of the Atlantic coastline in Honduras, as well as a large chunk of the border with Guatemala. The Mexicans, Alvarez said, move freely throughout these regions, but rather than seeking to take over areas, the foreign gangs are working through already existing networks of local bosses to increase their presence and expand their operations.
This comes weeks after the discovery of a cocaine-processing lab, which are typically found in the Andean producer nations. This is the first such finding in Central America, and suggests a threat that is mutating. Currently, an estimated 400 tons of cocaine pass through the region on an annual basis, but Central America has not historically been a cocaine-processing region. Alvarez says that the goal for Honduras is to prevent Mexican gangs from laying down enduring roots in the country.
Authorities say that the Honduran cocaine lab was operated by the Sinaloa cartel. Arms stores belonging to the same group have also been captured in Honduras. The shift of cocaine processing from the Colombia, Peru and other Andean nations to Central America could fundamentally shift the economics of the cocaine supply chain. Rather than the South Americans controlling two vital steps in the process—i.e. the collection of the coca base and its processing in laboratories to produce crystallized cocaine—the Colombians would be left just supplying the base. This, in turn, would allow the Mexicans to derive significantly more profit, because instead of buying kilos of cocaine for up to $3,000, they can pay just $1,000 for the base and process it themselves, before selling it in U.S. for up to thirty times that amount.·
Furthermore, this would shorten the distance that the cocaine needs to travel, which would both lower the transportation costs and decrease the chance of seizure. As a major center of operations, Central America is all the more appealing because the weaker law-enforcement agencies mean that there is less chance that expensive cocaine will be seized, which further reinforces the profitability of a northward shift.·
The threat from organized crime to Central America is arguably more serious than in any other region of the Western Hemisphere. The isthmus has been a vital trafficking route ever since the restriction of the Caribbean route connecting the Colombian jungles to the retail markets in Miami and the rest of the United States. However,·the past decade has brought about a particular significant deterioration of security in Central America, with murder rates in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador among the highest in the world.
The incursion of Mexican drug traffickers has been most widely reported in Guatemala, as the Guatemalan government has struggled to prevent the incursion of the Zetas into states like Alta Verapaz and Peten. (Of course, there have also been reports that, far from combating them, elements of the Guatemalan governments are actually selling arms to groups linked to the Zetas.) Street gangs in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador like MS-13 and M-18 have also forged stronger links with the Mexican gangs.
Geoffrey Ramsey, also writing in Insight on 25 April notes "Cable: Honduran Military Supplied Weaponry to Cartels."
As Mexican cartels infiltrate Central America, corrupt elements within the region’s militaries from places like Honduras are providing them with arms far superior to those of local police. But the question remains: Just how many of the weapons used by Mexican cartels come from military stockpiles in Central America versus civilian gun stores in the United States?
The question is central. The source of the guns fueling a war that has left over 36,000 dead in Mexico since December 2006, has governments and advocate groups on both sides of the border pointing fingers. Mexico is reportedly considering suing U.S. gunmakers, reports CBS News.
But gun stores along the U.S. border states are only one source of weaponry used in Mexico. As InSight has reported, Guatemala's military stockpiles have been filtered illegally to the Zetas criminal gang. On top of this, according to a 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable first obtained by WikiLeaks and recently released by McClatchy, the Honduran military has “lost” several U.S.-supplied military weapons in recent years.
The cable, avaliable below, cites a Defense Intelligence Agency report entitled “Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market,” which noted that the serial numbers on light anti-tank weapons recovered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and San Andres Island, Colombia, matched the numbers on guns that had previously been sold to Honduras. In addition to the guns, U.S. authorities seized a number of M433 grenades from criminal groups in Mexico, which were also traced back to the Honduran army.
Such revelations, when paired with recent allegations of high-level government links to drug trafficking in Honduras, present a dim forecast for anti-arms trafficking efforts in Central America. They also add fuel to an already heated debate over the cartels' main source of arms. While testifying to the U.S. Senate on March 30, General Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, implied that corrupt military officers in Central America bear most of the responsibility for arming Mexican drug traffickers.
"Over 50 percent of the military-type weapons that are flowing throughout the region have a large source between Central American stockpiles, if you will, left over from wars and conflicts in the past," said Fraser.
Since then, major media outlets like the AFP and McClatchy have picked up the comment, casting it as proof that Central American military arms are fueling Mexico’s drug violence.
But while General Fraser’s comment that over 50 percent of “military-type” weapons come from Central America may be true, it is misleading. The weapons coming from Central America only account for military-grade arms, which include anti-tank weapons as well as M-16 and G36 assault rifles.
The civilian versions of these weapons, such as the AR-15 and the AK-47 variants, account for many more of the seizures made in Mexico, according to several United States Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) sources consulted by InSight. Indeed, ATF agents have repeatedly told InSight that the most commonly carried weapons by cartel foot soldiers are modified, automatic AK-47 variants from Romania and China. These cheaper versions are readily available in many American gun stores and bought, legally, by straw buyers at the behest of middlemen who sell them, illegally, en masse to the cartels in Mexico.
"Middlemen" including the ATF, apparently. One wonders how the Honduran government is going to react to the next lecture from the State Department on how sloppy they are with the military weapons we've sold/given them? Not very well, I would imagine.
Oh, well, just another garden-variety Obama administration act of war on another sovereign nation. What's the big deal? Nothing to see here, citizens. Move along.