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By Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight
In the little over four years that Felipe Calderón has been president of Mexico, the Mexican government has registered 34,162 deaths due to organized criminal violence. It has also seized 93,000 weapons, the vast majority of which come from the United States, say Mexican authorities. And while no one knows exactly how many weapons cross the Mexican border illegally per year, the relationship between firepower and violence is unmistakable in Mexico.
Beginning in 2004, the Mexican criminal syndicates began an arms war that has spread from north to south and even into neighboring countries like Guatemala and Honduras. The weapons have allowed groups like the Sinaloa Cartel to develop mini-armies that, much like their Mexican military counterparts, have sought to fight and gain territorial control of strategic and lucrative trafficking corridors.
Homicide rates due to organized crime have since skyrocketed, reaching 15,273 last year. This includes hundreds of politicians, policemen and ordinary citizens. As the drug war death toll climbs, so too does the lethality of the weaponry favored by the cartels. A country with but one gun store - and some of the strictest gun laws in the world - is now awash in military-style assault weapons.
WASR-10 HI-CAP Underfolder Semi-Auto Rifle
One of the most popular, and a focus of our investigation, is a cheap durable knockoff of the AK-47, called the WASR-10, made in Romania. Known as the "Cuerno de Chivo," or "Goat's Horn," in Mexico, because of its curved magazine, this is the Mexican criminal syndicates' most popular weapon. It is easily altered from a semi-automatic to an automatic, is easy to operate and is virtually indestructible even while facing all matters of climate.
These semi-automatic rifles are readily available in many of the 6,700 gun stores along the southern border, despite a U.S. ban on the importation of assault weapons since 1989. Under current regulatory interpretations, rifles like the WASR-10 are imported into the U.S by companies like Century International Arms, where they undergo a "reconfiguration" that increases their lethality and popularity in gun stores like X Caliber in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Gunrunners investigative project tracks the entire distribution chain -- in this case from the Romanian factory, where these weapons are born, to the streets of Culiacán, Sinaloa and Cuernavaca, Morelos, where these weapons wreak havoc and, ultimately, death -- in an effort to understand the interconnected nature of the gun business and how limited oversight and enforcement by government agencies along the chain keeps this cycle going.
Jan. 21, 2008 -- Cartel Chief Captured, Culiacán
Mexican soldiers surprise and arrest Alfredo Beltrán Leyva in Sinaloa's capital. Top lieutenant in the Beltrán Leyva Organization [BLO], he handled its money laundering and bribery activities. Police find in his car, a Colt .38, purchased Oct. 17, 2007, at X Caliber in Phoenix, plus an AK-47, eight other handguns and $900K. Capture sparks a bloody feud between BLO and longtime allies, the Sinaloa Cartel.
May 10, 2008 -- Weapons Cache Uncovered, Culiacán
In fierce fighting between the Beltrán Leyva Organization and Sinaloa Cartel, authorities serving a search warrant come under fire. Two suspects injured, including Alfonso Gutierrez Loera, cousin of Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín Guzman Loera. Seized: grenade launcher, eight bullet-proof vests, 3,500 ammo rounds and 12 WASR-10s -- six purchased at X Caliber in February 2008, by straw buyers.
May 26, 2008 -- Bloodbath in Culiacán
A police unit is ambushed in Culiacán by suspected members of the Beltrán Leyva Organization. A huge five-hour firefight ensues. Sniper fire and grenades keep the authorities at bay. Eight policemen end up dead, three injured. Two suspects captured, another killed. Seized: seven AK-47s, 36 magazines and 500 rounds of ammunition. One of the AK-47s was purchased by Camron Galloway on Jan. 30, 2008, from X Caliber.
July 2, 2008 -- Federals Shootout, Culiacán
Patrolling neighborhood near Autonomous University of Sinaloa, Mexico's Federal Police come under fire. Agents pursue gunmen into a house. Federal/military agents kill four assailants, capture two others and recover 15 high-power weapons, including three Century International Arms Romanian WASR-10 rifles purchased by straw buyers from X Caliber Guns between August 2007 and February 2008.
Sept. 30, 2008 -- A Car Chase in Culiacán
After the car chase, Mexican Federal Police arrest Oscar Daniel Chávez Rochin, 28, and discover an armored truck, three rifles and a pistol during a search of his home in Culicacán, Sinaloa, including a Romanian WASR-10 that Grant Dorman had purchased from X Caliber on Feb. 28, 2008, and another Romanian WASR-10 that Steven Fouts purchased from X Caliber on March 7, 2008.
Dec. 11, 2009 -- A Christmas Party, Cuernavaca
Mexican Marines raid the party where Arturo Beltrán Leyva, head of Beltrán Leyva Organization, and brother Hector are celebrating. They escape; police kill three of their associates, arrest 11 more. The lavish party included Latin Grammy winner Ramon Ayala, who was not charged. Seized: four handguns, about 1700 rounds of ammo and 16 rifles -- 10 were Romanian-made WASR-10s bought at X Caliber Guns.
Dec. 19, 2009 -- Army Raid, Cuernavaca
Days after slaying Arturo Beltrán Leyva, Beltrán Leyva Cartel [BLO] chief, in a siege in upscale Cuernavaca, army personnel raid a house in a middle-class area. Seized: 41 rifles, 6,700 rounds of ammo, seven silencers, several handguns, telescopes, radios and some illegal drugs, which they link to the BLO. Eighteen of the rifles were WASR-10s bought at X Caliber.
June 6, 2009 -- Acapulco Gun Battle
Federal police approach suspected Beltrán Leyva Organization hideout in a neighborhood once popular with Hollywood stars. They are met with bullets and grenades. Thirteen gunmen, two soldiers and two bystanders are killed in the four-hour shootout. Five gunmen are arrested; four are members of the local police. Seized: 13 handguns, 13 grenades, a grenade launcher and 39 rifles -- one a WASR-10 bought at X Caliber.