COLOMBIA NEWS – The government of Colombia recently melted down 18,000 firearms that security forces had seized from two terrorist groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and several criminal gangs.
Officials began melting the seized weapons in large furnaces at the National Steel (SIDENAL) facility on July 22 according to a press release from the General Command of the Military Forces of Colombia. The facility is located in the town of Sogamoso, department of Bocayá.
The Armed Forces and National Police (PNC) agents seized the weapons in 2014 during several coordinated joint operations which also involved the Attorney General’s office, according to the General Command. These efforts were supported by the mayors of several towns. In some towns, the disarmament campaigns were organized by citizens.
It was the largest operation the Armed Forces has carried out in recent years to melt down weapons seized from suspected terrorists and criminals, Vanguardia reported.
The campaign complies with several international commitments, among them the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms (CIFTA).
Handguns, machine guns, rifles, and shotguns
Security forces transferred the seized weapons to the Department for the Control and Sale of Arms and Explosives (DCCA) – among them, handguns, automatic machine guns, rifles and shotguns. The firearms, most purchased illegally, were valued at about five million pesos.
The DCCA takes an inventory of the weapons, which authorities keep for three months. After the weapons have been stored for three months, authorities begin to destroy them, according to Col. Enrique Arturo Torres Arciniegas, director of the DCCA.
From 1992 to November 2013, Colombia melted down more than 400,000 weapons seized from criminals and criminal organizations, the General Command reported.
It typically takes DCCA three to four days to melt down the weapons.
Authorities will use the iron and steel from the weapons to reinforce the foundations and columns of hospitals, schools and houses in areas where the military’s “Sword of Honor” plan is in effect, according to El Colombiano.
Sword of Honor is a strategic military plan to aggressively confront the FARC, the ELN, and other armed criminal groups. The goal of the program is to dramatically reduce the capacity of the insurgency and to improve public safety. President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of the Sword of Honor initiative in February 2012.
Since authorities launched Sword of Honor, 93 percent of the country’s municipalities have been free of guerilla attacks, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said on August 3.
Destroying weapons to improve public safety
The FARC and the ELN have about 10,000 and 3,000 members, respectively, according to Nestor Rosania. He’s the director of the Center for Security Studies, Defense, and Internal Affairs of Colombia (CESDAI).
The FARC purchases firearms on the black and gray markets, said Yadira Gálvez, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
“It is very difficult to trace the origin of the weapons. These arms virtually come from gray or black markets,” Gálvez said. “The black market is related to direct trafficking; the weapons are sold illegally right from the beginning. The gray market has weapons that enter (the market) legally and are later stolen or transferred.”
Authorities believe that melting down large numbers of weapons that might otherwise be used by terrorists and organized crime operatives helps improve public safety and save lives.
Using the steel obtained from melted down weapons to help build schools and hospitals sends a symbolic message about the importance of peace, Gálvez said.
“The Colombian government is delivering on these goals to prevent repeated cycles of violence,” the security analyst said.
Between 1958 and 2012, the conflict between the FARC and government killed 220,000 people, according to ¡Basta ya!, a report from the Colombian National Center of Historical Memory.
Since 1994, drug traffickers have killed about 20,000 people, according to the Economist. About 5,200 of these people were police officers.
Security initiative to reduce gun violence
Colombian security using various initiatives to seize guns from terrorists and organized crime groups and to interrupt drug smuggling networks:
• On Aug. 11, National Police agents in the El Páramo district, in Cúcuta, captured José Giordano Grass Prieto, who is also known as “El Armero.” Police captured El Armero inside a clandestine workshop which was allegedly used to store, repair, and alter firearms for Los Rastrojos, a drug trafficking group. Police seized a shotgun, molds to manufacture ammunition magazines, and drums for revolvers, Vanguardia reported
• On July 31, the Criminal Investigations Directorate of the National Police finished dismantling a gang that allegedly built submarines used by organized crime groups to transport weapons and drugs. Police arrested Alexander Giraldo Santa, who is also known as “El Ingeniero” or “Chiqui.” He has allegedly manufactured boats for the Clan de Úsuga since 2011, according to the website Veracruzanos.
Colombian security forces will remain vigilant in the battle against firearms violence, President Santos said.
“We will not lower our guard. We will continue fighting the guerrillas and transnational organized crime syndicates,” President Santos said on August 5 during the commemoration of the National Army’s 195th anniversary.