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Latin America’s Cartels Build Their Own Arms Industry

Bill Weinberg

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New evidence emerged this week that Mexico's warring cartels are becoming a real military force and underground parallel state in the country's lawless northeast. 

Small Wars Journal noted a press release from the Mexican attorney general's office, the PGR, announcing that federal police and army troops had raided a winery on the border of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Laredo where 13 vehicles were being fitted with armor plating. Small Wars Journal called it a "narco-tank factory." A huge amount of ammunition was also confiscated in the raid, although it seems the people who were running the workshop all escaped. The PGR said they believe the makeshift factory was being run by the Gulf Cartel.

This isn't the first such find. Another factory was busted in Tamaulipas in 2011. It is believed that the Gulf Cartel and its arch-rivals, Los Zetas, are in an arms race with each other. The two cartels have long been in a bitter struggle for control of the Tamaulipas "plaza" or sphere of operations with regular shoot-outs in Reynosa, Matamoros and other border towns.

Ominously, AP reported in January that Brazilian police had made a similar find in Sao Paulo —  two full-fledged military tanks were found in a warehouse raid in the low-income district of Sacoma. The tanks had apparently been auctioned off by the Brazilian armored vehicle manufacturer Engesa. 

"We are investigating who placed the winning bid," a police statement said. 

Hopefully, Brazil isn't following Mexico on the road to an internal war fueled by the illegal drug trade.

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