On 26th September 2014, police in the Mexican town of Iguala in the state of Guerrero ambushed a convoy of buses carrying students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College to a protest march. Police opened fire, killing several students and bystanders, and abducted 43 students in police vehicles. The students have not been seen since.
The first anniversary of this mass disappearance saw demonstrations across Mexico and around the world. I joined campaigners outside the Mexican Embassy in London’s Mayfair, and spoke to the crowd about the UK’s complicity in the human rights abuses spiralling out of control in Mexico.
Arms to Mexico
When investigators searched the weapons of the police in Iguala, they found 36 assault rifles made by German arms company Heckler & Koch (H&K). The German government had given H&K permission to sell guns to Mexico as long as they weren’t supplied to four of the most corrupt and violent states, including Guerrero, but H&K proceeded to illegally export nearly nearly 5000 assault rifles to those states. German authorities have so far failed to charge anyone in connection with this crime.
Heckler & Koch also has a base in Nottingham in the UK from where it handles sales to countries around the world, including regimes known to commit serious human rights abuses. And the UK government is happy to approve arms exports to Mexico without even the restrictions imposed by the German government.
The London arms fair
The war raging in Mexico is one of the deadliest in the world, and the use of torture is widespread among Mexico’s police and armed forces. However, this did not prevent the UK government from inviting Mexico to shop for weapons at one of the world’s largest arms fairs earlier this month.
The DSEI arms fair, held at London’s ExCeL centre, was attended by a high-level military delegation from Mexico as well as delegations from numerous authoritarian regimes and countries currently at war – all invited by the UK government. The MoD even provided personal shoppers to help foreign buyers to browse the weapons on display.
Heckler & Koch had a stall at the arms fair, and there on display were the same assault rifles that police in Iguala are believed to have used to shoot and abduct the student teachers of Ayotzinapa. Other companies that supply weapons to Mexico were also at the arms fair, including:
- Colt and Beretta, whose guns were also found in the possession of the Iguala police
- 20 UK-based arms companies that have applied for licences to export arms to Mexico, including Accuracy International, a Portsmouth-based sniper rifle manufacturer, and Qioptiq, a supplier of weapon sights
- Sikorsky and General Electric, which make Blackhawk attack helicopters that are sold to Mexico
These weapons are contributing directly to the civilian death toll in Mexico. In May of this year, police fired on a ranch in Michoacán state using a Blackhawk helicopter, killing 42 civilians. And in July, two helicopter gunships were used in an attack on an indigenous community in the same state. Community leaders claim that government soldiers shouted slogans in support of a drug cartel as they carried out the attack.
The UK government is complicit in these atrocities by continuing to invite Mexico to shop for weapons in the UK, and by approving arms exports to Mexico. There is even a UK government department whose sole purpose is to help UK-based companies to sell arms to countries like Mexico.
According to its own rules, the UK is not supposed to export arms where there’s a clear risk they could be used to violate human rights or to aggravate conflict, but while the government likes to tout the existence of these rules as proof of “rigorous” export controls, in practice they are simply ignored.
Throughout the two weeks before and during the DSEI arms fair, there were daily protests that disrupted deliveries and made headlines. As hundreds of activists blockaded delivery trucks bound for the arms fair, a speaker from London Mexico Solidarity told the crowd about the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa and the illegal H&K guns.
The demonstrations were also addressed by speakers from other campaign groups including Bahraini, Egyptian, Palestinian and Kurdish. International solidarity against the arms fair is growing as groups like these come together to oppose the human-rights-abusing regimes invited to London to shop for the tools of repression. As the arms trade is international, it is important that resistance is too.
Various campaigns joined London Mexico Solidarity outside the Mexican Embassy on Saturday afternoon, including London Palestine Action – another group that took part in protests against the arms fair.
I was proud to represent Campaign Against Arms Trade, and I ended my short speech with our collective demand for an end to the deadly trade that puts the weapons in the hands of Mexico’s corrupt police and drug cartels.