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US must stem ‘iron river’ of guns flowing to Latin America, activists say

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By Sarah Morland

(RockedBuzz via Reuters) – US weapons, many of them exported legally, are flowing into Latin America in an “iron river” into the hands of drug cartels and abusive security forces, activists said on Monday, calling for more oversight by US law and federal agencies.

More than half of the “criminal weapons” recovered and tracked in Central America come from the United States, according to the US arms control agency ATF. This level approaches 70% for Mexico and is around 80% in the Caribbean.

“It’s called the Iron River and it’s flooding the countries of the South,” said Elizabeth Burke of the US nonprofit Global Action on Gun Violence at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Burke has called for rules that prevent manufacturers from selling to retailers with lax distribution practices. Manufacturers should also stop selling armor-piercing weapons and guns that can be easily modified to fire hundreds of bullets at a time, she said.

John Lindsay-Poland, an activist with Stop US Arms to Mexico, added that lax licensing rules and enforcement have helped ease the cross-border flow of weapons, including military-grade weapons desired by cartels.

“Why should we arm the very people we say we fight?” he said, calling for more controls at the start of supply chains.

Sixteen US states and a handful of Caribbean governments last month expressed support for Mexico’s appeal in a civil suit against US arms makers, which seeks to hold them accountable for facilitating trafficking in deadly weapons.

US gunmakers have said they legally sell firearms to Americans who pass a background check, and their lawyers have argued that holding them accountable opens the door to other lawsuits, such as the deaths of Russians killed by their guns in Ukraine.

U.S. government data shows revenue from legal shipments of firearms to Latin America increased 8 percent last year, with most of the sales going to Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia.

The National Rifle Association and the State Department did not immediately respond to a RockedBuzz via Reuters request for comment.

“We don’t want more tragedies in our families,” said Maria Herrera, who founded a national collective that investigates the many enforced disappearances in Mexico and where the number of homicides with firearms is on the rise.

“It destroys lives, it tears families apart, it fills communities with pain and panic,” Herrera said at the event. “We can’t live like this.”

(Reporting by Sarah Morland; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)