How 1,500 Grenades Disappeared from Guatemala Military Stocks

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A news report has shed light on how 1,449 grenades were stolen from a Guatemala military cache in 2013 and sold to drug trafficking organizations, a case that — as is common in countries in the region — points right back to the armed forces themselves.

On March 12, 2013, Coronel Oved Milton Barrios Andrade received news that the 40 mm grenades had disappeared from the storage facilities of the First Infantry Brigade of the Aerial Command in Guatemala’s Peten province. An inspection found no signs of a break-in, and a search of the homes of the arsenal’s guards failed to turn up evidence of the grenades. The theft was not publicly reported until September that year. 

An unidentified military source told elPeriodico these grenades were later trafficked to Mexico’s Zetas cartel and Huehuetenango drug clan “Los Huistas.” 

According to elPeriodico, a report Coronel Barrios gave to anti-drug prosecutors revealed that security officials ignored various warnings about the theft, as well as reports by Barrios that the explosives arsenal was not adequately secured.

In late 2012, Barrios received information that 1,500 cartridges of an unknown caliber were being offered for sale by people within the brigade. The head of command dismissed the information and other commanders claimed everything was under control. In February 2013, further rumors regarding the sale of 40 mm grenades were again rejected. 

Other military sources have said they were sanctioned when they attempted to report suspicions regarding the robbery. Some claim the real number of grenades stolen may be as high as 6,500.

No one has been formally accused and the investigation into the case is stalled, reported elPeriodico.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is far from the first time that the Guatemalan army has been implicated in arms trafficking. In three reported cases in 2009, the Zetas were found with weapons — including grenades and machine guns — thought to have originated from military stocks. The Guatemalan army is also thought to be the source (pdf) for Israeli, Austrian and South Korean grenades recovered in Mexico. A 2009 report UN body International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) (pdf) highlighted how the failure to destroy old army weapons helped contribute to the trade.

Guatemala’s arms trade — which involves both weapons trafficked in from the US and leftover supplies from the country’s civil war — is closely linked to the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (CIACS). These groups of former high-ranking military and intelligence officials and special forces, which have their roots in Guatemala’s civil war and later became involved in organized criminal activity, are known to provide the Zetas with training and weapons.


The leakage of arms from military supplies is a common theme in Latin America. El Salvador’s army has figured prominently in arms trafficking investigations, while similar cases have also been found in Colombia and Honduras

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