Bullets are displayed at the Defence and Security International Exhibition Latin America Aero and Defence (LAAD) trade show for the defence and security industry in Latin America, in Rio de Janeiro, April 9, 2013.
Sergio Moraes / Reuters

During the 1980s, El Salvador was the single largest recipient of U.S.-issued military hardware in the Western Hemisphere. All manner of weaponry—including over 32,500 M-16s and 270,000 grenades—seeped into the country from 1980 to 1993. Most of it was destined for the military-led government so that it could wage a vicious war against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMNL. Although the armed conflict officially ended in 1992, the guns, grenades, and bullets linger. Officials estimate that at least half of the weapons turning up in crime scenes in the country can be traced back to the United States. And that is a lot of crime scenes; El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world. 

El Salvador wasn’t the only recipient of American guns. Most Central and South American countries aligned with the West were devoted consumers of military and civilian-issue small arms and munitions made

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  • ROBERT MUGGAH is the Research Director of the Igarapé Institute, an independent think tank based in Rio de Janeiro, and the SecDev Foundation in Ottawa.
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