By Edna Alcantara
MEXICO CITY – The Mexican army and police have seized 180,000 arms over the past three and a half years from organized-crime gangs, mainly drug cartels, including sophisticated, deadly weapons manufactured in South Africa, the Defense Department, or Sedena, said.
A 40mm grenade launcher capable of firing up to six grenades in 30 seconds and a disposable projectile launcher are among the South African weapons seized recently from Mexican drug traffickers, Gen. Antonio Monsivais, head of Sedena’s War Materiel warehouse, said Wednesday.
Most of the confiscated weapons (many brought into the country from the United States) arrive at that warehouse and are later destroyed, Monsivais said, adding that the cartels are seeking to bolster their arsenals and even get their hands on arms intended for the exclusive use of the military in different countries.
The gangs obtain many of these weapons in exchange for drugs, he added.
A total of 79,074 firearms seized from organized-crime groups are being kept under close watch at the Sedena warehouse – opened to the press for the first time on Wednesday – until they are eventually destroyed.
The weapons arrive at this storage facility, located in a military zone of the Mexican capital, after passing through several checkpoints manned by armed soldiers.
Other weapons being stored at the warehouse include AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles, different types of grenades – including Israeli-made grenades – and .50-caliber Barrett rifles capable of penetrating armor and downing helicopters at a distance of two kilometers (1.2 miles).
The Mexican states where the largest number of seizures of these types of weapons has occurred are (in order): Baja California, Michoacan, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and the Federal District (Mexico City).
Drug-trafficking gangs and other organized crime groups are known to operate in those jurisdictions, which have been especially hard hit by turf battles in recent years.
About 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence nationwide since President Felipe Calderon militarized the war on Mexico’s cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
More than 7,000 gangland killings have occurred so far this year in Mexico, Attorney General Arturo Chavez Chavez said last month.
Gen. Monsivais also said authorities have found weapons altered by criminals to increase their potency, such as AR-15 assault rifles that have been adapted to give them the force of a .50-caliber Barrett.
He said two or three of every 1,000 AR-15 rifles seized were modified, while between 20 and 30 of every 100 AK-47 rifles were altered.
But the general said that despite the type of weapons in the possession of the drug-trafficking gangs, their firepower still does not exceed that of the Mexican armed forces and police.
The warehouse has a special workshop for destroying seized weapons, only 5 percent of which will be reused for military training or to be displayed in military or civilian museums.
A small exhibition of high-powered weaponry also was on display at the storage facility, including Barrett rifles, M60 machine guns, pistols and jewel-incrusted rifles that were once the property of Mexican drug lords.
In destroying the arms, the metal pieces are divided into three parts and are sold as scrap, while the wood pieces are incinerated. EFE