Germany’s complicity in Mexican drug wars under scrutiny
Arms Trade - Deutsche Welle - Feature Story - Germany

Germany’s complicity in Mexican drug wars under scrutiny

German authorities’ failure to investigate an arms to deal to Mexico is contributing to the ongoing conflict there, protesters in Stuttgart have claimed. Heckler and Koch is accused of illegally selling guns there.

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A handful of protesters gathered in Stuttgart on Friday to protest against the state prosecutor’s failure to investigate an apparently illegal arms sale made by Heckler & Koch to Mexico.

H&K, supplier of small arms across the globe, has now been under investigation for five years for selling thousands of G36 assault rifles to the Central American country. Despite several interviews and searches of the company’s headquarters and the private homes of employees, the state is yet to charge anyone.

According to arms trade researcher Jürgen Grässlin, the illegally-acquired G36 assault rifles have almost certainly been used by security forces in conflict zones in Mexico, despite Germany’s export ban on selling weapons into the area. The German government’s security council, headed by Angela Merkel, permitted the sale of guns to Mexico, but forbade their use in four states where corruption and violence were considered too serious.

“What might have been well-intentioned – the equipping of Mexican police units against the drug cartels – has today become a disaster without parallel,” Grässlin wrote in a recent article for the magazine “ZivilCourage.” “Shootings and murders by state security forces occur primarily in the states where the weapons … should never have been allowed to enter.”

It has since been established that the police force involved in the disappearance of 43 students last year owned some of the rifles sold to the Mexican government. “To prevent worse happening, the government must demand the return of all H&K weapons,” wrote Grässlin.

The students, arrested by the Iguala police force on September 26, 2014, are thought to have been handed over to the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos, who almost certainly executed them. Although federal investigators recovered human ash sunk into a local river, only the DNA of one of the students, taken from a single tooth, could be identified.

The disclosure of the illegal arms sale and the dragging investigation into H&K casts a shadow over the German government’s commitment to slowing down its arms exports, a promise that Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has frequently made.

Arms trade

The 43 students belonged to a left-wing political organization in their home town of Ayotzinapa, which was critical of the government’s economic policies.

“Guerrero is a state with a lot of social organizations. It’s a left-wing university – the young students there are organized, and have a political consciousness,” said Samuel Weber, co-organizer of Friday’s demo in Stuttgart and co-founder of human rights blog Sin-Rostro. “They are all different activists and they have experience of repression. It’s a form of social control – they try to put these obstacles in the way of all the social movements.”

But like the deal in Stuttgart, the massacre in Guerrero remains unsolved. Under diplomatic pressure from other Latin American leaders, and in the face of mass protests in the country, President Enrique Pena Nieto sent federal investigators to Iguala. These arrested the mayor, who they said had ordered the students to be killed, and impounded the local police’s arsenal (where they found a few of the above-mentioned G36 rifles). They also made several arrests, and according to Weber tortured several suspects. But no charges have been made, and families are no closer to finding the graves of their loved ones.

As far as Weber is concerned, there is also evidence that federal prosecutors have become involved in the corruption in Mexico. “The government keeps trying to present this as a local crime,” he told DW. “The argument it always makes is that this is all local politics and drug dealing. But that raises the question, why is the state prosecutor acting like this? Why isn’t evidence being pursued?”

German responsibility

“Germany delivered weapons with which we … have been suppressed,” Eduardo Moreno Peralta, a friend of one of the students who disappeared, told DW. “But the Mexican government has also sold the weapons to ‘organized crime,’ which has led our country to sink into a wave of violence.”

“In the face of the crimes in our country, Germany must put pressure on our government,” Peralta added. “Germany has a responsibility, because it is one of the most powerful countries in the world.”

Berlin has apologized for the use of German weapons in atrocities in Mexico, but after five years, there is pressure on prosecutors in Stuttgart to bring the executives who made the deal to account.

Stuttgart state prosecutors, however, say that an investigation that involves another country is always time-consuming. “Police officers can’t just go into another country and question people and carry out searches,” prosecutors’ spokeswoman Claudia Krauth told DW. “It always has to happen within the framework of judicial agreements. And then the foreign investigators aren’t familiar with the case – so they ask the witness a question, the witness answers, and we don’t have any possibility of asking another question – if you have another question, you have to send off another request.”

But Krauth added that the officer running the investigation – on his own – would come to a conclusion this summer.

Apart from the ongoing investigation, H&K also has a number of other troubles. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen revealed last month that new army tests had shown that the G36 – the Bundeswehr’s standard issue weapon – had accuracy problems in hot climates. The company has denied this.