In an operation coordinated by the international police organization Interpol, the security authorities in Latin America have struck a heavy blow against organized crime.

203 tons of cocaine and other drugs worth $5.7 billion were seized in the region as part of Operation Trigger IX between mid-March and early April, Interpol said yesterday. During operations in Central and South America, 14,260 suspects were arrested and 8,263 illegal weapons and 305,000 rounds of ammunition were confiscated. It was the largest action against illegal firearms ever coordinated by Interpol.

During the operation, Interpol gathered weapons experts from the countries involved in the border town of Foz do IguaƧu in the border triangle between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to manage the operation. “Brazil currently has a major problem with the illegal importation of firearms across the border,” said Marcus Vinicius Bantas of the Brazilian Federal Police. “These weapons are used for all sorts of crimes, including murder.”

Action against 20 criminal organizations

Security forces from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay were involved in the operation. Operation Trigger IX was funded by the European Union.

The forces took action against 20 criminal organizations, including the Brazilian crime syndicate Primeiro Comando da Capital, the Salvadorian youth gang Mara Salvatrucha and the Balkan cartel, which is also active in South America. After the operation, the law enforcement authorities involved opened around 30 investigations.

“The fact that an operation targeting illegal firearms resulted in such massive drug seizures is further evidence that these crimes are intertwined,” said Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock. “The organized crime networks that are behind all this illegal activity have only one priority: profit. We, as law enforcement agencies, must be equally determined to dismantle them in every region and worldwide.”

Also fueled by the drug trade, Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions in the world. “Only 13 percent of the world’s population lives in the Americas, but 37 percent of all homicides worldwide are committed there,” said Interpol weapons expert Line Haidar. “Two-thirds of all homicides in America are committed with guns.”