Report: Arms Transfers to Mexico Spike 184 Percent; US the Top Supplier

By Mark Browne | February 22, 2017 | 12:25am EST
Mexican Army Special Forces soldiers. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

Mexico City ( – Purchases and transfers of military equipment to Mexico have increased dramatically over the past five years compared to the five before, with the U.S. accounting for more than half of all transfers.

According to a new report by a Swedish think tank that monitors the flow of weapons globally, the Mexican government has been on a buying spree with transfers of weaponry and equipment into the country growing by 184 percent between the 2007-2011 period and the 2012-2016 period.

The report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said the US was the largest supplier of arms to Mexico in the 2012-16 period, providing 56 percent of all transfers, followed by Spain at 11 percent and France at 11 percent.

Venezuela was the largest importer of arms and military equipment in South America during the period.

Arms shipments to Colombia decreased by 19 percent, as peace talks with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels progressed, the report noted.

It said 34 percent of deliveries to South America during the period were from Russia, followed by the U.S. at 16 percent and France at 8.1 percent.

“Mexico received armored transfer vehicles, transport aircraft, transport helicopters and a few patrol boats,” explained Nan Tian, a researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

“These are weapons commonly used to fight insurgencies or small groups. If you think of how drug cartels operate, these weapons would be used against the drug cartels.”

He said Mexico wasn’t purchasing tanks, missiles or the most advanced anti-missile defense systems that might be more commonly used to defend the country against an invasion.

On the other hand, Venezuela is purchasing more defensive weapons, including missiles from Russia, artillery, and missile defense systems, Tian said.

Worldwide, the SIPRI report said the volume of international arms transfers increased by 8.4 percent between the 2007-2011 period and the 2012-2016 period, marking “the highest volume for any five-year period since 1990.”

“The five biggest exporters in 2012–16 were the United States, Russia, China, France and Germany, by rank.”

“With a 33 percent share of total arms exports, the USA was the top arms exporter in 2012–16, compared with 30 per cent in 2007–11,” the report noted.

The five largest importers of arms were India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, China and Algeria.

Colby Goodman, director of the Security Systems Monitor Program at the Center for International Policy, said there had been a “huge increase” in arms deliveries to Mexico since 2013.

“There is a real trend of increasing arms sales to Mexico and it’s significant.”

The increases began after 2013 when Mexico was the fifth largest recipient of arms in Latin America.

By 2014, it had become the largest recipient at $319 million that year in purchases of arms from both government and private sources, Goodman noted.

The total jumped to $494 million in 2015.

Goodman said his organization relies on reports to Congress and U.S. government sources to determine the size of American arms sales to the region.

John Lindsay-Poland of the American Friends Service Committee said the findings of an increase in military equipment flowing to Mexico were “not surprising,” given that Mexico takes a “military approach” to the problem of drug trafficking and drug cartels.

Since most weapons in Mexico, including military and non-military, can be traced to the U.S., Lindsay-Poland said the U.S. was “essentially supplying both sides” in Mexico’s drug war.

“The military approach that Mexico is taking to organized crime and drug trafficking appears to be only accelerating violence in general, so it’s not a good sign.”

Sergio Aguayo, a political commentator and professor of political science at The College of Mexico, has called on the Mexican Congress to address the legal and illegal sales of weapons into Mexico from the U.S.

Writing on the “Mexico voices” blog, he said the military and police purchase weapons legally, while organized criminals purchase them illegally.

“The two markets are formally separate, but with many connections between the two,” he wrote.

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