By Arnie Alpert and John Lindsay-Poland
January 17, 2021, Seacoast Online
With the authorization of additional public funds to support Sig Sauer’s expansion into the Lilac City, Rochester joins the company and the State as a partner in the export of gun violence. The city’s decision to ease the flow of traffic in and out of the gun-maker’s new facility will speed the trafficking of firearms to countries where the company’s products have been used to commit homicide.
Mexico, where Sig Sauer is now the number one supplier of firearms, is a case in point.
Take the case of Marisela Escobedo who, while campaigning for the arrest of the man who had killed her daughter two years previously, was gunned down in front of the state government building in Chihuahua ten years ago. According to press reports, the murder weapon was a Sig Sauer pistol made in New Hampshire.
Kassandra Treviño’s experience may be another story worth examining. With her two-year-old daughter, Treviño was at her father’s home in Nuevo Laredo in 2019 when police burst in dragging seven people with them. Before long, Treviño’s father and the seven captives had been assassinated with gunshots to the head, according to a local human rights group. Although two Tamaulipas State Police agents have been charged with murder, in the three months after the killings, that police agency purchased 850 pistols and rifles manufactured by Sig Sauer in New Hampshire.
Since 2015 Sig Sauer has had a contract to sell up to $266 million of firearms and firearms components to the Mexican Ministry of Defense, the only entity in the country that can lawfully import weapons. From the Ministry, weapons are transferred to private individuals and to military and police agencies.
According to research conducted by Stop US Arms to Mexico, based on official Mexican sources, since 2014, the Mexican military has sold more than 10,000 U.S.-produced Sig Sauer firearms to police in 19 Mexican states, including states where there is an extensive record of collusion between police and organized crime, such as Tamaulipas, Michoacán, and Chihuahua.
That some Mexican military and law enforcement personnel collude with organized crime is no secret. In its annual human rights report for Mexico, the US State Department says plainly, “Significant human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other government officials and illegal armed groups in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture.”
A case in point is former General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who headed the Defense Ministry from 2012 to 2018, which notably includes the year Sig Sauer inked its $266 million deal. Last year the US Drug Enforcement Administration indicted Cienfuegos for drug trafficking and money laundering. It turns out that the Defense Minister was also the H-2 Cartel leader known as “El Padrino,” the “Godfather.” (Attorney General Barr later dropped the charges, ostensibly so that Mexico can launch its own investigation, but not because of lack of evidence.)
Mexico is not the only country with a problematic human rights record where Sig Sauer, the largest handgun exporter in the United States, sells it goods.
In the last five years, Sig Sauer has sold firearms to more than 80 countries, including several where human rights violations and/or firearm violence are serious problems, and where end use controls by importing countries are weak. These include at least $57 million in exports of pistols and gun parts to Mexico since 2015, as well as sales to Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador, Israel, the Philippines, Guatemala, and Colombia. The United Arab Emirates, a dictatorship that has sponsored brutal militias in Libya and Yemen, has purchased $35 million in pistols and gun parts from Sig Sauer since 2015. A bipartisan Congressional coalition is currently proposing to cancel sales of advanced weapons systems to the Emirates.
Sig Sauer’s record is not reassuring.
The company’s CEO has pleaded guilty to charges in Germany that he violated restrictions on arms exports to Colombia, a country whose tawdry human rights record placed it off limits for arms exports under German law. Apparently, the company attempted to evade German law by shipping weapons from Germany to New Hampshire and then to Colombia. They got caught.
With the recent approval of a New Hampshire Business Finance Authority deal to purchase an empty factory in Rochester and lease it to Sig Sauer, the State is now an official partner in the production of weapons likely to be used in additional atrocities.
It’s not just the City and the State which are complicit in the arms trade; since the Trump administration changed rules governing firearms exports last year, licenses to export firearms are not even reported to Congress. That’s why we proposed to the Executive Council in November that Sig Sauer be required to make public disclosures of the places armaments made in Rochester are exported. Ron Goslin, Sig Sauer’s Vice President of Operations, said simply, “I don’t think it’s something we would want to do.” With that, the Council shrugged and voted 4-0 to approve the $21 million deal.
New Hampshire’s state seal will not be printed on Sig Sauer pistols produced in Rochester, but next time one of its guns is seized after what is legalistically called an “extra-judicial killing,” there will be an invisible seal of approval for those willing to look. Rochester citizens and taxpayers should be among them.
Arnie Alpert is a long-time human rights activist in New Hampshire. John Lindsay-Poland is the founder and coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico. The views expressed are those of the writers.