I have been moving around Latin America for 20 years as a Marine Corps officer and private consultant to congressional investigative teams targeting Latin and South America. Recently, I was sitting in a bar in Miami International Airport and I was shocked to hear Secretary of State (SOS) Hillary Rodham Clinton in a televised broadcast declare, in no uncertain terms, that our country was solely responsible for arming the bad actors in the drug war "below the border.”
Our number one diplomat summed up the scourge of all drug violence in Mexico as a direct product of firearms purchased in the United States and smuggled into Mexico. I assumed that we, according to the SOS, are the prime cause of those 8,000 + murders in the past 18 months in Mexico. The U.S. is causing Mexico's drug-fueled mayhem and murder!
Retired DEA Special Agent Luis Maldonado, assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Colombia at the time, in 1999 educated a group of wide-eyed congressional investigators to the bare facts about weapons trafficking into and out of Colombia.
The Capitol Hill "gofers" were putting together a piece of legislation that today is well known as "Plan Colombia," a 10-year program that has met with varying degrees of success in stopping illegal drugs and limiting the once horrific bloodbath in the Andes. Now, how does this fast-forward to the Obama administration's decree that 90 percent of the firearms that are responsible for the violence in Mexico come directly from the U.S.? Well, first off, you've got to realize that we Americans have short memories!
Luis Maldonado served in a number of Latin American countries and he gave clear evidence that the raging narco-war in Colombia was just a stop-off point for all sorts of military weaponry that was circulating through "the neighborhood." Mexico was one of the prime end-user locations for most of this hardware he described to the Capitol Hill group. Weapons trafficking has only increased in the past decade and the sum total of arms-for-drugs transactions has been ignored by the new Obama White House. Why? It's easier to blame America in order to push another massive foreign aid dump into Mexico.
U.S. State Department officials even admitted, in 2001, that the weapons–drugs–cash circuit was mainly from the
Southern Hemisphere, moving Red Chinese, Russian and Warsaw Pact weapons stocks into Mexico to begin the cycle. The Director of the Colombian National Police, General Daniel Castro, told Matthew J. Sullivan, founder of the Freedom Council of Valley Forge, that the right-wing paramilitaries who were surrendering in 2004 were conducting large-scale fire sales of automatic weapons to Mexican criminal gangs before they turned themselves in. Sullivan visited the arms trafficking region, including Colombia, in 2002, 2006, and 2007. This was further confirmed by an ATF agent in Houston, Texas, who asked not to be identified in this article.
THE LATIN ARMS BAZAAR
A detailed 2004 report from the Freedom Council of Valley Forge disclosed the route of weapons trafficking in 2002. Sullivan and three of his senior staffers did extensive research and boots-on-the-ground investigating to prove that weapons moved from Colombia to Mexico via the same trafficking routes as cocaine. He briefed Congressmen and Senators on his findings in an effort to highlight what he called the "Latin Arms Bazaar."
Whenever congressional officials went to the State Department for more information, they ran into stone-walling and "diplo-speak." Sullivan's visits to Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Panama and Mexico raised more questions than anyone in our State Department could ever answer about drugs and arms trafficking.
A BLOOD-SPLATTERED CARNAGE
"Colombia's ongoing conflict has been a blood-splattered carnage for nearly half a century, killing an estimated quarter of a million people in that troubled Andean country. The engine of that conflict—illegal drugs—has a direct and unmistakable connection to the U.S. and Mexico," states Sullivan. "All this didn't happen overnight," he continues. His logic is clear and convincing when considering what President Bill Clinton's DEA Administrator, Thomas Constantine, declared before the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on February 24, 1999.
"In my lifetime, I have never witnessed any group of drug trafficking criminals that have had such a terrible impact on many individuals and communities in our nation."
Our DEA today estimates that 70 percent of illegal drugs, most of which originate in Colombia, enter the United States from our border with Mexico. "You would have had to live on the dark side of the Moon for the past 20 years to have missed this," says Sullivan. It's easy logic to understand that when these Mexican drug gangs get squeezed by the progress against the cocaine cartels in Colombia, they need more weapons to fight their next door competition, and they get the guns from Colombia.
"When you move ton-loads of cocaine from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to Mexico ... you know those routes are moving weapons as well," states a senior intelligence officer, who asked for anonymity, at U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Florida. His expert view is based on a decade of experience.
CHECK YOUR SOURCES BEFORE MAKING ACCUSATIONS
The bulk of the weaponry used by the Mexican drug cartels has not come from the United States. You need only to take a good look at the AK-47s, AK-103s, Galils, shoulder-fired antitank rocket launchers (RPGs), and automatic handguns that are produced in China and Russia to see the obvious. Yes, M-16s, AR-15s, and Glocks, Sigs and Smith and Wessons make great photo ops and video footage on television; but let’s face it, that's not the majority of the armaments being used "below the border." The narco-related violence that is committed by Mexican drug gangs is not being exclusively committed with U.S.-made weapons. The professionals whom I spoke with really know what’s going on in Mexico's drug war on our border; they believe that the new Obama administration needs a reality check.
Bert Andrew is a retired Marine Corps officer who has served and lived in Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. He is an independent journalist who is working on a book about narco-terrorism.