Flickr image of the Mexico-Guatemala border courtesy Steev Hise.

Confidential documents unleashed by the anti-secrecy site Wikileaks are painting a grim portrait of life on Mexico’s other border: nearly 600 miles shared to the south with Guatemala. Weapons and narcotics flow freely, leaked diplomatic cables from the United States claim, and little over 100 Mexican law-enforcement officials are available to police the boundary.

“Weakness” in the Guatemalan government, enduring violence, pervasive corruption and the country’s convenient location for drug trafficking “are creating a very dangerous cocktail,” according to the documents.

One account calls the current conditions in Guatemala “lawless” and says other Latin and South American countries could also be enabling drug-cartel violence by making it easier for traffickers to access fresh arms supplies.


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U.S. officials worried that powerful weapons capable of taking out combat helicopters would fall into the hands of cartels after being sold to Venezuela by the Russian government, one document shows. Past reports have described cartel fighters using military-style weapons either purchased from gun shops in the United States or stolen from arms stockpiles in Central America. Authorities are confiscating no small number of assault rifles and even anti-tank rockets.

Another document considers the link between Mexican cartels and FARC insurgents in Colombia, while Nicaragua posed its own set of problems. Diplomats, citing what they’d been told, reported that senior officials in the Nicaraguan government “received suitcases filled with cash to protect drug-traffickers, and judges released drug dealers soon after they were arrested by Nicaragua’s police,” according to the El Paso Times.

More generally the documents raised questions about whether the government of Mexico could keep control of its geographic regions and fully assemble a strategy for defeating drug dealers. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that the United States has its own costly and relentless drug war to contend with domestically.

Meanwhile, White House officials quietly stalled on a plan over the summer that would have required gun sellers in the United States situated along the southwest border with Mexico to alert ATF investigators when customers made big purchases of semiautomatic rifles. The Obama administration reportedly feared noisy opposition from gun lobbyists prior to the midterm elections, the Washington Post discovered recently.

An emergency proposal made public by the ATF Dec. 17 would mandate that retailers report certain bulk sales of semiautomatic rifles that have removable magazines and are more powerful than a .22 caliber.

G.W. Schulz is a reporter for Reveal, covering security, privacy, technology and criminal justice. Since joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2008, he's reported stories for NPR, KQED, Wired.com, The Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and more. Prior to that, he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was an early contributor to The Chauncey Bailey Project, which won a Tom Renner Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2008. Schulz also has won awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is based in Austin, Texas.