El Salvador Arms Theft Highlights Military Weapons Trafficking

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Authorities in El Salvador have announced the theft of four high-powered weapons from military stocks and the detention of two soldiers, in a case that highlights the role of corrupt military personnel in facilitating arms trafficking in the region.

The disappearance of four M-60 machine guns from the Cavalry Regiment of San Juan Opico, in El Salvador’s western La Libertad province, was reported by military officials in June and announced on July 7 by the Salvadoran Defense Ministry. The Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the matter, reported El Diario de Hoy

One army officer and a soldier in charge of guarding the warehouse where the arms were kept are being investigated in connection with the case, anonymous military sources told Diario La Pagina. A third suspect was arrested, but later released. 

According to the Defense Ministry, the weapons are capable of firing 500 bullets per minute at a distance of 1,000 meters.

In a separate case, authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of Elmer Espinoza Hercules, a former army major accused of trafficking more than 200 M-90 grenades found by police in 2013, which were stolen from the military and allegedly destined for the Mexican Zetas drug gang.

InSight Crime Analysis

The present case is just one of several instances of Salvadoran military personnel being linked to arms theft and weapons trafficking. A former army lieutenant was arrested for attempting to sell M-16 rifles to a suspected Zetas member in 2011, and six other military personnel were arrested that year for plotting to sell nearly 2,000 grenades to criminal groups.

Meanwhile, in June this year, the Attorney General’s Office began investigating the military for the suspected trafficking of hundreds of military weapons earmarked for destruction. Defense Minister David Munguia Payes was identified as a suspect in the case. 

As InSight Crime has noted previously, the corruption and weak institutional control that facilitate these kinds of cases serve as barriers to stricter arms control in a region home to a large supply of leftover civil war weapons. The Zetas are also believed to buy and steal weapons from Guatemalan military caches, while weapons seized from Mexican criminal groups have been traced back to the Honduran military.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

In El Salvador, the arms control issue is particularly relevant as homicides are on the rise again amid the crumbling gang truce, and questions have been raised about where gang members acquired high-powered weapons used in recent assaults on police.

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