OAS Destroying Arms and Ammunition in Central America
By Dialogo March 18, 2011
The Organization of American States (OAS) has unveiled a new machine designed
to reduce the number of weapons and ammunition in Central America.
The small, trailer-mounted machine will be used by the OAS, regional police
and security forces to dispose of the voluminous amounts of obsolete and unused
ammunition and firearms throughout the region.
“The idea of the mobile machine is so that we can move it from one country to
the next and offer it as a service to the governments of the other Central American
countries,” Carl Case, Director at the Office of Humanitarian Mine Action for the
Department of Public Security of the OAS, told Diálogo.
Officials unveiled the machine during a demonstration hosted by the OAS and
Guatemalan military in Guatemala City in late January and recently in Central
America OAS member nations. The machine cut and burned unused weapons and ammunition
at the demonstration. Using a rotary disk saw, torches and a burner system, weapons
are slashed and burned to disable them from further use.
The machine disabled about 300 weapons per day during a demonstration and has
the capability to burn about 100,000 rounds of ammunition daily, Case said. Up to 3
million illegal weapons exist in Central America and about 12,000 to 15,000 illegal
weapons are confiscated each year by Central American authorities, he said.
Participants in the initiative are travelling to each of the Central American
OAS member nations to dispose of weapons and ammunition stockpiles that have
accumulated over the years. The Humanitarian Mine Action program of the OAS and the
OAS Department of Public Security designed the program with a grant from the U.S.
The machine can safely destroy ammunition, explosives, pyrotechnic devices
and even bombs of up to 500 pounds.
The Humanitarian Mine Action program successfully ridded the region of all
active mines in June 2010, completing the project in Nicaragua. Nations across the
world donated more than $66 million to demine Central America.
“Central America becoming free of antipersonnel mines is a significant
milestone on the road to our goal of a mine-free world,” Peter Kent, Canada’s
Minister of State of Foreign Affairs said the day of the announcement of a mine-free
Since the successful mining initiative, the OAS nations of the region have
turned their focus on eliminating weapons and ammunition that have accumulated over
the past 60 years. Case estimated that the OAS has rounded up more than 900 tons of
ammunition in Nicaragua and 400 tons in Guatemala.
“We have an agreement with the Ministry of Defense in Guatemala and that is
why we are starting there and that’s why we built the system there, “ Case said. “We
are also in the process of negotiating similar agreements with Belize and Costa
Rica. We expect to have those agreements signed fairly soon. We are in dialogue with
El Salvador and we’ve had some discussion with Panama about the possibility of doing
something with them as well.”
To carry out the project, the OAS has employed several technicians trained in
explosives demolition to train members of Central American military or security
forces on how to use the machine.
The technicians are supervising the project to assure safety of the
demolition, which is sometimes taking place in highly populated areas such as
The OAS has trained 16 in Guatemala to operate the machine and 50 others on
the techniques of explosives demolition. Officials in Nicaragua also have been
trained to operate the machinery.
“In some cases much of the ammunition is in bad condition and poses a danger
to not only the military people that are working around it but also in the areas
around it,” Case said. “In Guatemala, some of the ammunition and weapons were in
very bad condition so it was a sensitive operation. Several stockpiles were stored
in areas that were within the capital city so it was a particular problem.”
During the past 20 years, explosions of ammunition and weapon stockpiles have
caused damage to communities throughout Latin America, including locations in
Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay.
Historic conflicts in the nations of Central America created large ammunition
stockpiles that are potentially dangerous to civilians, Case said.
During the demonstration in Guatemala, which has an estimated 10,000 to
14,000 confiscated weapons, the firearms being destroyed included Thompson “Tommy”
submachine guns, which were used primarily during the first half of the 20th Century
and were made famous by American gangsters.
In addition to ridding the region of old, stockpiled weapons and ammunition,
Case said the OAS also hopes for the machine to eventually be used to destroy
illegal arms more quickly as they are confiscated by regional security forces.
The number of confiscated weapons in Central America has escalated in recent
years and added to already large existing stockpiles. The Oscar Arias Foundation for
Peace and Human Progress in Costa Rica, which is named after the former President
and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, estimated that there were some 2.85 million illegal
firearms in Central America, or more than one for every 17 people living in the
“A lot of the countries in Central America see an increasing level of
violence and criminality,” Case said. “You often see it in Mexico which makes a lot
of news, but there are a lot of problems of similar danger in Central America with
gangs, narcotics trafficking and so forth. The interest in this project on the part
of the countries is to try to deal with that in a more efficient manner.”
The OAS hopes that the burning machine will destroy 700,000 rounds of
ammunition by the end of 2011.
The OAS also has begun promoting the marking of firearms throughout Latin
American and the Caribbean region to combat the illicit manufacturing and
trafficking of weapons.
The marking initiative, implemented by the General Secretariat of the OAS
within the framework of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit
Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Related
Materials (CIFTA), met with representatives from 26 member countries in Costa Rica
in December to strengthen cooperation and promote the exchange of information among
government authorities responsible for firearms marking at the national, regional
and international levels.