Latin American Guns R' Us

In Latin America, violence associated with small weapons has metastasized across the hemisphere. Millions of pistols, revolvers, machine guns and other light weapons that originated from the hands of government forces have worked their way into the hands of private citizens wanting to protect themselves, counter-military forces, drug cartels and urban gangs working against those in power. This proliferation has not only helped created private security system, but also has intensified human rights abuses. The source of many of these weapons is the United StatesÑthrough lax gun control laws, weak law enforcement, legal governmental arms sales and such covert arms sales as was uncovered during the Iran-Contra scandal. But Latin American production and trade of weapons also is emerging as countries attempt to attain economic and military self-sufficiency. Israel, European countries and the former Soviet Union also contributed their share. During the Cold War era, arms sales from the U.S. and the Soviet Union were high. Firepower aid was regarded as foreign policy by the superpowers as they vied for allies in friendly regions. Between 1950 and 1969, the U.S. alone spent $660 million on military aid to Latin America. "There is a very close relationship between the diffusion of arms and the pervasiveness of violence in Latin America," write authors Michael Klare and David Andersen in A Scourge of Guns. "The fact that both state and non-state actors have access to such an abundance of firepower has contributed in many ways to the rise of lawlessness, brutality, and bloodshed." Collecting information for this bookÑwhich explores who's distributing arms, how weapons are distributed, and possible solutions to the problemÑwas a challenge for Klare and Andersen, because information on the black market and government trade is slim. Working with the local press, regional scholars, trade statistics and official government records to compile their information was worth it: They've created a comprehensive study on light arms proliferation, while calling for increased documentation and access to information on light weapons. Their other recommendations to solve this problem include enhanced export controls, suppression of illicit arms trafficking, and demilitarization and disarmament. Until these things are achieved, the authors reason, democracy in these countries will be hindered, violence will propagate, and the drug trade will continue.To read more on this subject, order A Scourge of Guns by sending $15 payable to the FAS Fund to Federation of American Scientists/Arms Sales Monitoring Project 307 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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