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Will Freeman, Council on Foreign Relations
April 25, 2023
American-made guns trafficked through Florida ports are destabilizing the Caribbean and Central America and fueling domestic crime. It’s time for the United States to get serious about stopping the flow.

In March, a Mexican drug cartel kidnapped four Americans and tragically killed two of the hostages just miles over the border from Brownsville, Texas. One firearm used in the murders had followed the same route as its victims, crossing the border into Mexico.

It’s not an unusual path for firearms to travel. In fact, the strip of land that runs from San Diego to Corpus Christi is known colloquially as “the iron river” for the sheer frequency with which American-made weapons are smuggled across. As much as 90 percent of guns recovered on Mexican soil originate in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

But the United States has a second conduit for illegal firearms trafficking that receives a fraction of the attention even as it fuels violence every bit as destabilizing: the Miami River and Florida’s maritime ports. Nestled along the banks of the river are nearly a dozen freight lots which send ships carrying “break bulk” cargo—assorted non-containerized goods—to ports in the Bahamas, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and other Caribbean island nations.

Photo: Confiscated illegal guns are displayed during a news conference at New York City Police (NYPD) Headquarters in New York Brendan McDermid/ Reuters