Illustrated by: Dario Castillejos, Cagle Cartoons
Amid a flurry of recent gang violence in Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador, a recent New York Times article argued that the Biden administration has an opportunity to decrease the flow of weapons across the southern border by passing legislation requiring universal background checks. Over 2.5 million guns have crossed over the United States’ border into Mexico and Central and South America in the last decade. During this time, Mexico’s homicide rate and drug-fueled violence have continued to rise. Despite COVID-19 lockdowns, Mexico had more than 34,000 homicides in 2020, only a slight drop from 2019, which saw over 35,000. Cartels buy trafficked arms through the private-sale loophole in the U.S. to bypass background checks or pay people with clean records, called “straw buyers,” to purchase the weapons from gun shops. Aside from probation, there is no real deterrent for people not to take the easy money.
Despite calls to stem gun trafficking from the United States, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil signed four presidential decrees that increase the legal amount of ammunition and firearms Brazilians can purchase and reduce federal security oversight of gun ownership. Polls show that two-thirds of Brazilians disapprove of the administration’s push to increase access to firearms after watching homicide rates increase by five percent during 2020.
Brazilians are not alone in their concerns. A wave of gang-related violence has gripped the Colombian city of Buenaventura as criminal groups fight for control. Approximately 60 percent of Colombia’s exports and imports pass through the town—which underscores its value and appeal to gangs—however, the city has remained impoverished. Although the city has a high security presence, police tactics have often proved ineffective—targeting gang leaders rather than taking measures to dismantle the groups. When a gang leader dies, they are often replaced through a process of violent internal disputes that bleed into the local community. Local citizens are calling on President Iván Duque to fulfill his 2018 campaign promise to make the port city a top security priority.
Additionally, on Tuesday, over 60 inmates were killed in gang-related riots at three prisons in Ecuador related to a gang war over the local drug trade. Ecuadorean drug gangs have increased their control over the country’s prisons, especially as prisons have cut their budgets under the country’s International Monetary Fund austerity program. While Ecuador is not a major coca producer, its shared borders with Colombia and Peru—the two largest producers globally—have allowed it to become a central cocaine-trafficking hub, bringing with it the violence that follows.