Small arms: The worldwide scourge

For example, the leftwing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC) in Colombia use the proceeds from drug sales to finance their armed warfare. They also trade cocaine for weapons. Earlier this year an international police operation dismantled a network in which the FARC allegedly attempted to exchange cocaine for weapons from the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, according to news reports. The BBC noted that in March, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) uncovered an alleged plot by the FARC to provide a shipment of cocaine to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in exchange for arms acquired in Libya.

An article entitled “Blood, Drugs, and Guns Arms Trafficking Fuels Chaos” posted on the website of the Stanley Foundation (a body that seeks a secure peace with freedom and justice, built on world citizenship and effective global governance) says that the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, (AUC), the umbrella group for Colombia’s right-wing paramilitaries are infamous arms smugglers. In a 2001 incident, according to a Colombian government indictment, the AUC brought in 3,000 AK-47s and five million rounds of ammunition aboard a ship supposedly carrying soccer balls. It adds that a large amount of Colombia’s small arms comes through Central America. Some are US-supplied weapons originally given to the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

“At first we used our own arms to defend ourselves from the guerrillas,” said Juan Bolivar, the chief negotiator for the AUC. “Later we got M60 machine guns and mortars. We got arms from Central America, from the arms the US sold to the Contras, and from what the Soviet Union supplied to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Some of the Central American arms went through three wars before they got here.” A revolver goes for about $150 on the streets of Bogota. A 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol can be bought for $350.

In this the new globalised world, it has become more difficult for law enforcement authorities to keep abreast of the small arms trade. UNODA says that in the past, arms markets were relatively easy to survey, with far fewer supply outlets and less intermediate activity. Typically, closing a deal and delivering the goods were done by state authorities or government agents. The use of private intermediaries has become common practice. These actors now routinely arrange transactions for defence industries, armed forces, law enforcement agencies and suppliers to government as well as private entities, operating in a particularly globalised environment and often from multiple locations. Contemporary traders, agents, brokers, shippers and financiers may well combine activities, making it difficult at times to distinguish small arms trade from brokering.

Investigations of arms embargo violations by the monitoring groups of the Security Council have exposed some international networks involved in the illicit trade and brokering of small arms. These brokers and dealers exploit legal loopholes, evade customs and airport controls and falsify documents such as passports, end-user certificates, cargo papers and flight schedules. Illicit activities by certain brokers and traders — and by the government officials they collude with — have violated every UN arms embargo, with small arms and ammunition as the main items transferred.

UNODA posits that “the traffic in small arms is also affecting states ́ability to develop. Armed violence can aggravate poverty”, it says, “inhibit access to social services and divert energy and resources away from efforts to improve human development. Countries plagued by armed violence are behind in attaining the Millennium Development Goals. High levels of armed violence impede economic growth. According to the World Bank, nothing undermines investment climates as much as armed insecurity.”

Some of the small arms entering Trinidad and Tobago may have their provenance in the US. According to a study released by the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, around 250,000 guns were purchased in the United States and smuggled into Mexico each year between 2010 to 2012. Security officials on both sides of the border seized 14 percent of the guns smuggled into Mexico. The study estimates that up to 47 percent of US guns stores rely upon some demand from Mexico in order to stay in business. Security Weekly also reports that young thugs have begun to rob gun stores in towns along the border. One such group is the Gulf cartel-related “Zetitas” (little Zetas), which is active in the Texas cities of Houston, Laredo and San Antonio, as well as other places. An estimated 400,000 illegal arms still enter the country every year, according to “Blood, Drugs, and Guns Arms Trafficking Fuels Chaos.”

There are no accurate figures for the number of small arms and light weapons currently in circulation globally. Sources estimate the total to be at least 875 million, says UNODA. The UN contends that small arms and light weapons cause the deaths of over 500,000 people annually. Gun smuggling is big international business which affects every country. An investigation by the Toronto Star reported that guns are purchased in the United States and trafficked into Canada. The report stated that a gun would first be purchased in the United States for $150. The gun would then be smuggled across the border and sold in the City of Windsor for $800 to $1,000 to a trafficker. The trafficker would then move the gun further north into the City of Toronto, where that gun is sold for at least $2,000. Pistols in Toronto are also available for rent for $600 per night, according to the Toronto Star. Up to 70 percent of all crimes involving guns in Canada involve firearms purchased in the United States and smuggled into the country.

In the Caribbean the small arms trade is wreaking havoc. The Cayman News service reported in July the following: “The Caribbean’s ambassador to the United Nations has said the region needs to address the small arms trade, which is causing intense violence in its communities. Speaking at the seventh general meeting of Caricom and the UN, Irwin Larocque, Caricom’s Secretary General, said citizen security was of paramount concern as the “dimensions of the scourge of crime” increased and the region was plagued by the illegal trade in small arms. The Caribbean is a vulnerable transiting point which, he said, was wreaking havoc in communities, “terrorising neighbourhoods, claiming innocent lives, and compromising economies by undermining the investment climate and socioeconomic development efforts.”

The growing crime situation for the Caribbean is being fuelled by changes in the illegal drug trade. Experts believe that the Caribbean is an increasingly important transit route for drug-trafficking into the US as South American and Mexican drug cartels take advantage of the region’s economic problems and avoid the Mexican government’s crackdown on its own cartels and increased security on the US border.

According to the latest US statistics, about nine percent of all illegal drugs that entered the US came through the Caribbean in 2012, about twice the rate in 2011. “The trend in recent years is that the Caribbean has re-emerged as a key drug-trafficking transit route,” Daniel Sachs, an analyst at Control Risks, told the UK press recently. “The security forces in these islands are woefully unprepared to respond to this evolving threat, particularly in the current debt climate. (National Security budgets are usually a quarter of the underground GDP) With cartels moving operations to the Caribbean, local gangs are supporting the drug trade and this has triggered a rise in violent crime, as guns and drugs flow into the region.”

In order to combat the illicit arms trade, The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a multilateral treaty to regulate the international trade in conventional arms was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on April 2, 2013 and opened for signature on June 3, 2013. As of July 31, 2013, more than 80 States have signed the Treaty. In June this year Trinidad and Tobago signed the treaty. Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran said that while Trinidad and Tobago was elated to be part of the signing ceremony, we were not oblivious of the fact that, for the ATT to have any meaning, it must not only be signed but also be implemented in the domestic laws of Member States.

Said Dookeran: “Trinidad and Tobago has begun the process of ratification of the Treaty and expects to be among the first fifty (50) States to permit the ATT to become operational. We are also examining our laws to ensure that they are compatible with the provisions of the agreement. We are satisfied that the ATT has established itself as a major part of the legal architecture and there is a need for the establishment of a Secretariat to assist States Parties with capacity building initiatives and other matters necessary for the full implementation of the obligations which flow from the Instrument. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is convinced that we have the capacity and resources to host the Secretariat and in this regard Trinidad and Tobago declares its interest in formally making a bid to house the Secretariat. We will be embarking on a campaign to secure the support of the global community to ensure that we are successful in this endeavour and we count on the support of all States gathered here today.”

Ten Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries which have signed the first ever international treaty to regulate the trade of conventional weapons are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“The illicit trade in small arms, light weapons and ammunition wreaks havoc everywhere. Mobs terrorising a neighbourhood. Rebels attacking civilians or peacekeepers. Drug lords randomly killing law enforcers or anyone else interfering with their illegal businesses. Bandits hijacking humanitarian aid convoys. In all continents, uncontrolled small arms form a persisting problem,” says UNODA.

“Small arms,” it says, “are cheap, light, and easy to handle, transport and conceal. They are the weapons of choice in civil wars and for terrorism, organised crime and gang warfare.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that the Arms Trade Treaty “opened a door of hope” to millions of people living in deprivation and fear because of the poorly controlled trade and the proliferation of the deadly weapons.

“The world has decided to finally put an end to the free-for-all nature of international weapons transfers,” he said, adding that, “from now on; weapons and ammunition should only cross borders after the exporter confirmed that the transfer complied with internationally agreed standards.”

Let́s hope he’s right.


"Small arms: The worldwide scourge"

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