Cops Linked to Mexican Student Massacre Had German Battle Rifles
G36s confiscated from police arsenal
The kidnapping and massacre of 43 students with police complicity has sparked a major political crisis in Mexico. And now the crisis has reached all the way to Germany.
It’s because of the weapons the police may have used to kill several students. Police officers in Iguala, a municipality in the state of Guerrero, shot at buses filled with student protesters in September, killing six people and wounding dozens.
The police then arrested 43 students and allegedly handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel, who massacred the students and burned their bodies.
The massacre launched a major investigation. As state and federal officials searched through the police arsenal, they found a cache of G36 rifles.
The problem is that it’s illegal for Berlin to export these rifles to the state of Guerrero under German law.
According to a list of seized weapons Mexican authorities provided to Die Tageszeitung, the investigators recovered 36 G36 rifles from the Iguala police.
This is in addition to Italian and American rifles. In total, the police had 228 guns, “97 of which were rifles,” the newspaper reported.
The G36 is a lightweight battle rifle produced by German arms firm Heckler & Koch. It’s the standard-issue rifle in both the German and Spanish armies. The rifle is in service with various commando units around the world, and the Kurdish Peshmerga, but it’s fairly uncommon globally due to reliability and overheating issues.
It’s not clear if the Iguala police used their G36s during the initial attack on the student buses. The police used 5.56-millimeter rounds in the attack—which fits the G36—but possessed at least three types of rifles in this caliber, including the G36.
Still, it’s still noteworthy the rifles showed up in a police arsenal linked with a massacre.
Also because Berlin prohibits its arms industry from exporting firearms to the Mexican states of Guerrero, Chihuahua, Jalisco and Chiapas, due to human rights concerns. These prohibitions fall under the War Weapons Control Act, which Germany amended in 2007 to include the four Mexican states.
But there’s several scenarios that might explain how the G36s arrived in Guerrero. Nor would it be the first time Mexican authorities seized illicit G36s. In 2011, the Mexican marines put a captured G36 on display in Coahuila after the arrest of five suspected Zetas.
In 2006, Germany sold 9,000 G36 rifles to Mexico’s Secretariat of National Defense. According to the deal, the ministry would distribute the rifles to federal and municipal police in states not prohibited by Berlin’s arms control law.
One possibility is that Heckler & Koch broke that law. In 2010, the company admitted that two employees—who the company later fired—redirected a portion of the G-36 rifles to buyers in prohibited states. But it’s hard to see how the company would have been in the dark about where their own employees were selling weapons.
Juergen Graesslin, an activist with the German Peace Association, claimed an informant within the company told him “employees went to the banned states, and he says they trained policemen with the G36,” according to Deutsche Welle.
Another possibility is corruption in reverse. According to this theory, police forces in non-prohibited states could have acquired the weapons from the federal government, before selling them on the black market.
The Guerreros Unidos cartel then acted as a straw buyer—or middleman. The cartel bought the illegal weapons, and then finally sold them to their local police allies, who were otherwise prohibited from having them.
“In some ways, this is the reverse of what is more commonly seen with arms: security force weapons falling into the hands of criminals,” wrote Marguerite Cawley and Steven Dudley of InSight, a Web site which tracks organized crime in Latin America.
Instead of cartels arming themselves through deals with crooked cops, the cartels are arming the police.
But the deeper problem is that the dividing line between the four states listed under the German arms law and the rest of Mexico is arguably … pretty thin.
The law doesn’t include Coahuila or Tamaulipas—both states with severe levels of violence, kidnapping and corruption. If Germany was truly concerned enough about its weapons falling into the hands of criminals to limit exports, there are few states it could reasonably export to.
There’s also one overriding reason why a cartel would want to arm the local police with powerful German military weapons. The police are acting as the violent enforcers for the cartels—with the veneer of state legitimacy.