Next Sunday, April 19, it will be exactly five years since criminal charges were pressed against Heckler & Koch, Germany’s biggest supplier of rifles and handguns to the rest of the world. The activist Jürgen Grässlin, and later several journalists, found evidence that H&K had illegally sold thousands of assault rifles into the middle of one of the most horrific conflicts on the planet (at least 120,000 dead, but probably more like 150,000), but so far, the Stuttgart state prosecutors have not made any arrests. They’ve searched the company HQ and the homes of employees, they’ve questioned a few people, but no one is in custody.
There’s no doubt the law was broken – German export controls ban selling weapons into four of Mexico’s states (because of the drug wars, and police corruption and torture), and H&K’s G36 assault rifles have been filmed being used by those corrupt security forces in those states (the footage was shown in an ARTE documentary two years ago). Plus the Mexican defence ministry has produced the receipts to prove they bought them.
And there is no doubt that Heckler & Koch is responsible for the crime – German law says it’s the company’s responsibility to inform the buyer (the Mexican defence ministry) that they weren’t to be used in the conflict states. But still, German prosecutors have done nothing about it for FIVE years. Not only that, given that Angela Merkel’s government has been aware since 2010 that the guns were illegally sold to Mexico, it would have been within its rights to demand their return. That hasn’t happened either.
Last year, it became clear that Germany’s inaction and apathy about its own corrupt business people has directly helped fuel the conflict in northern Mexico. On September 26, 2014, 43 Mexican students disappeared in the town of Iguala, Guerrero. They were rounded up by local police, interrogated, and then handed over to a local drug cartel, the Guerreros Unidos, who then almost certainly executed them and burnt their bodies. Those students were just the latest of at least 26,000 similar disappearances in Mexico since 2006. But because it was so many in one go, this particular atrocity caused outrage – it brought mass protests across Mexico, it caused international diplomatic spats as other South American leaders threatened not to show up to summits until the crime had been cleared up, and many Mexicans noticed Germany’s complicity in these crimes, and protested outside the German embassy in Mexico City.
The Mexican president vowed to do something about it, and sent federal investigators to Iguala. They arrested the mayor, who they said had ordered the students to be killed, impounded the local police’s arsenal (where they found a few of the above mentioned illegal G36 rifles), and also found bags of human ash sunk into a river. They also arrested and tortured some suspects, and now there is plenty of evidence that the federal officers there have been bought by the drug gangs too. So this crime, like the one in Stuttgart that helped start this whole business, is still unsolved and unpunished. The families of those who disappeared, have since given up on the authorities, and have taken to looking for the remains of the 43 students themselves. All they’ve found so far is mass graves of other killings.
Of course, you could throw your hands up and say, “Hey ho, the world’s a shitty place, what can we do?” But that’s what complacent, arrogant fuckers like Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel are counting on. Because here’s the thing – they listen when there’s enough bad publicity: when the charges were pressed against H&K in 2010, the government did impose a ban on further small arms exports to Mexico. That’s a start. Now it needs to make sure that Germany’s corrupt business people are held accountable.
There is a demo going on down in Stuttgart today against the state prosecutors. Via videolink, some of the relatives of the disappeared Mexican students are going to be speaking there.