The Hidden Pandemic: How U.S. Arms Sales Have Fueled Decades of Violence in Latin America


In 2017, following the fraudulent re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Hondurans took to the street to demand justice and the recognition of their right to a free and fair election.

In response, Honduran security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing thirty people and wounding thousands. The weapons used were M-4 rifles provided by the United States.


The unfortunate reality is that this event is not unique. Year after year neighboring Mexico and other Latin American countries, including Colombia and Honduras top global homicide rankings and make the news for horrific instances of brutality.


And while the driving forces of such extraordinary levels of violence are often multifaceted and vary from country to country, the means for such bloodshed is stunningly consistent - weapons provided by the United States.


For decades now, the United States has been flooding the region with firearms, creating an epidemic of gun violence in many places. In Honduras, for example 70% of homicides are committed with a firearm and in El Salvador 80% are.


In Mexico, 70% of illegal guns seized are traced back to the United States and in Honduras, almost half of all guns recovered at crime scenes are manufactured in the U.S..

Other countries heavily inundated with U.S. manufactured weapons include El Salvador, Guatemala, and Brazil.


Earlier this year, as the world began to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration quietly loosened federal restriction on certain categories of firearms, paving the way for a dramatic increase in the global export of military rifles and handguns.


According to data from the US International Trade Commission, U.S. companies exported more than 83,000 military rifles between March and July, more than two and a half times what was exported in the same period in 2019.


The Case of Honduras


U.S. Military Advisor Training Honduran Security Forces

U.S. weapons exports to Honduras, whether in the hands of Honduran state security forces or violent illegal groups, brutalize communities and families, making continued life in the country unsustainable. The United States government has provided millions of dollars in military and police assistance to Honduras, which includes equipment and training, but it also transfers weapons to Honduras through commercial arms sales.


In addition, many weapons in Honduras come from the United States through illegal trafficking. In Honduras, the military runs La Armería, which controls domestic gun sales to police, to individuals and to more than 1,000 unregulated private security companies. The lack of transparency and controls in both government arsenals and gun sales, and Honduran military and police involvement in security companies, create a large grey area between weapons that are legally sold and illegal gun markets.


Colt Manufacturing, based in Hartford, Connecticut, exported M-4 assault rifles to Honduras that were used by military police to fire on protesters against electoral fraud in 2017. Colt shipped 1,714 M-4 rifles to Honduras in 2015, 350 in 2016, and 1,000 in 2017, at a value of $3,558,686 USD.


Honduran police frequently attack nonviolent protests with CS tear gas, which is manufactured by Nonlethal Technologies in Homer City, Pennsylvania. From a Wyoming company, Honduras imported more than $1.3 million worth of military explosives in 2018, and some military firearms. The exporter was most likely Safariland, based in Casper, Wyoming, which manufactures munitions and launchers, including for tear gas. Exporters in Florida have also exported more than $3 million of guns and ammunition since the 2009 coup in Honduras.


Honduras has also purchased millions of dollars worth of bullets from Illinois producers – more than $3.7 million worth in the last five years. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) shows more than 36% of guns recovered in Honduras in 2017 and traced were purchased in and trafficked from the United States. But since the source country for all other guns in Honduras traced by ATF could not be identified, many likely were trafficked from the United States, including U.S. weapons sent for wars in Central America in the 1980s. Leakage from militaries in the region remains a major source of guns in Honduras.


What You Can Do


Urge Members of Congress to:


  • Co-sponsor H.R. 1945, the Berta Caceres Act. Though it wouldn’t stop gun sales, it would re-orient U.S. policy toward the Honduran military and police.


  • Publicly oppose arms sales to Honduras (especially Foreign Affairs Committee)


  • Support H.R. 1134 and S. 459, which would stop the transfer of gun export licensing from the State Department to Commerce Department, maintaining Congressional oversight.




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