Mexico triples its arms purchases in space of five years

Most other Latin American countries are reducing their investment in military equipment

Mexico’s arms imports grew by 184% from 2012 to 2016 compared to the previous five-year period, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This makes Mexico the second-largest importer of weapons in Latin America after Venezuela, and ahead of Brazil, Colombia and Chile, which have all reduced their military spending.

A combat vehicle at a 2015 military parade in Mexico.
A combat vehicle at a 2015 military parade in Mexico.Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images

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The United States supplied 56% of all military material imported by Mexico during the period cited by the SIPRI, which used production costs rather than real sale prices to establish its figures.

This significant spike in arms imports by Mexico reflects “the militarized response to the drug cartels,” says Aude Fleurant, a SIPRI analyst who specializes in Latin American affairs.

After more than a decade at war with the cartels, the value of acquired and donated military equipment reached annual peaks in the last two years.

“Until now, Mexico has received vast amounts of military aid from the United States, but nobody knows what will happen with those donations from now on,” notes Fleurant, alluding to the new US administration and its markedly hostile rhetoric toward Mexico.

In 2015, Mexico bought defense material from Spain worth more than $148.5 million

The Bank of Mexico has already reduced the country’s growth forecast for 2017 to somewhere between 1.5% and 2.5% following the election of Donald Trump. Fleurant says that the next Mexican government will have to choose between “stimulating its economy or accepting the high costs of security.”

Mexico purchased more helicopters, all-terrain vehicles and armored combat vehicles, which Fleurant describes as “the type of equipment that is imported to carry out counterinsurgency measures.”

In 2015, Mexico bought defense material from Spain worth more than $148.5 million.

However, this increase in imports did not match an equivalent growth in overall military spending. According to SIPRI, in 2015 Mexico spent 0.7% of GDP on defense, a 0.2% rise from 2010.

Meanwhile, total arms imports by other countries in the Americas decreased by 18% between 2012 and 2016. Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia reduced their own expenditures “due to the fall in oil prices and financial problems,” says Fleurant.

Bolivia and Peru were the only South American nations to increase their imports. Venezuela still tops the import charts despite a recent slowdown of 17%, “due to its economy collapsing.” Russia was Venezuela’s main arms supplier.

Colombia reduced its arms imports by 19%, partly due to the peace process with FARC, says Fleurant, adding that the biggest drops in military imports were in Chile (80%) and Uruguay (82%).

English version by Susana Urra.

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