Weapons Destruction Progresses in Central America

Weapons Destruction Progresses in Central America

By Dialogo
February 10, 2011

GUATEMALA CITY – The Organization of American States’ (OAS)
mobile system to destroy weapons and ammunition is eradicating arsenals no longer
being used by law enforcement and military personnel throughout Central America.
“The idea is to destroy the explosives and weapons that could constitute a
danger to the commandos and the surrounding population,” said Col. Rony Urízar,
spokesman for the Guatemalan army. “These explosives are literally a ticking bomb
where they are stored.”
Carmen Rosa de León Escribano, the director of the Training Institute for
Sustainable Development (IEPADES), a Guatemala-based organization that promotes the
danger of firearms in the hands of civilians, applauds the OAS’ initiative.
“It is a joint OAS and Ministry of Defense process to destroy conventional
weapons that should be carried out more frequently to keep them from deviating to
the black market and into the hands of organized crime,” she said. “[But a] system
of arsenal management must be implemented to centralize the management of the
weapons deposits at one entity.”
The Guatemalan government has dealt with an influx in heavy weapons as the
result of an increase in narcotics trafficking. Cartels have turned the nation into
a hub in the narcotics trade, which has led to gunfights between rival gangs and
between cartel members and law enforcement agents, according to police.
Guatemala is one of Latin America’s most violent countries, with an average
of 18 killings daily, according to police statistics.
The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation reported Guatemala is home
to about 10,000 gang members, who are involved in weapons and narcotics trafficking.
Since the beginning of last year, about 400 tons of no longer used or damaged
ammunition and grenades have been destroyed by the Guatemalan military, according to
the OAS.
Grenades and bullets are destroyed in a “poporopera,” a
machine created by the OAS and Guatemala’s Department of War Materiel of the
Ministry of Defense.
“[The machine] heats up the ammunition until the gunpowder that impels the
bullets explodes,” Urízar said.

But the OAS and the Ministry of Defense destroy guns by placing them in a
chopping machine.
The goal is to take the machines on a tour of Central America, so officials
throughout the region can destroy their unused arsenals and weapons seized from
criminals, especially those belonging to narcotics and weapons traffickers.

Why destroy them?

In 2005, there was an explosion at a weapons warehouse in the Mariscal Zavala
Military Zone located north of Guatemala City.
No one was killed during the blast, but the explosion cast doubt on whether
the army was storing its weapons safely.
Officials also are concerned the unused weapons are being stolen so they can
be sold on the black market, where the guns can be purchased by criminals, which is
what happened in 2007.
At least five hundred guns and 1,000 grenades had been stolen from a
depository at one of the largest army bases in the country. The guns were later used
during a firefight between narcotics traffickers in the northern city of Cobán,
police said.
Two years after the robbery, Congress approved the Law of Weapons and
Ammunition, which allows someone found guilty of possessing an unregistered weapon
without a license to be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
“Under this law, we have seized weapons of war such as the AK-47, AR-15 or
M-16, several grenades and even mortars,” said Donald González, director of
Guatemala’s National Civil Police (PNC) Communications Department.
De León Escribano said the country needs tougher laws.
“The problem is that the law is too permissive, because DIGECAM can authorize
several licenses for the same person and this person can have as many weapons as
licenses held,” De León Escribano said.
The PNC estimates nine out of 10 violent deaths in the country are
Officials estimate there are at least 15 million firearms in the country,
most of which are illegal.
PNC officials said about 150,000 rounds of ammunition are imported daily in a
country that does not have any laws regulating the sale of bullets.