Una Historia de la Violencia
German Small Arms in Colombia
by Roman Deckert
A recent incident in Colombia has highlighted the fact that German small arms still
serve as weapons of mass destruction in the Worlds longest ongoing civil war which
has left hundreds of thousands of people dead since 1948. In June 2007 the Colombian
Police confiscated a number of G3 assault rifles from the rightwing militia of the
"Aguilas Negras" in the north-eastern Province of Cesar, bordering Venezuela.
Small arms from Oberndorf, a picturesque town in Southern Germany, have got a long and
devastating history in Colombia. Only a few years after the conflict - called "La
Violencia" between the government, leftwing rebels and peasants broke out, the
notorious German company Fritz-Werner helped the Colombian Ministry of Defence to set up
its own military industry, the company Industria Militar (Indumil). In 1955 Fritz-Werner,
itself then owned by the West German government, delivered machinery for the production of
Mauser-rifles to the Fábrica General José María Córdova in Soacha on the outskirts of
Bogotá. Internal documents from Fritz-Werner provide evidence that a large commission was
paid into Swiss bank accounts.
However, the Mauser-carbines soon could not satisfy the demand of the Colombian army
any more. The generals in Bogotá instead turned to the automatic G3 of Heckler & Koch
like Mauser situated in Oberndorf - as their new standard weapon. Between 1967 and
1975 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn allowed Heckler & Koch the export of
55.200 G3, 3.121 MP5 submachine guns und 1.500 HK21 machine guns "because of
political considerations of special nature" and with respect to the "traditional
relations in that field". The diplomats in their pursuit to support the fight for
"law and order" in Colombia also gave green light to the companies of
Dynamit-Nobel, Industriewerke Karlsruhe (IWKA) and Metallwerk Elisenhütte Nassau (MEN), a
subsidiary of Fritz-Werner, for the sale of more than 110 Million rounds of ammunition
during that period of time.
But even those massive transfers were not enough for the Ministry of Defence in
Bogotá. A letter from the directorate of Heckler & Koch to the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs in Bonn dated 1975 gives evidence that Indumil by then had purchased the licence
to manufacture G3, MP5 and HK21. The records of the Ministry prove that Indumil at least
produced the G3, with components imported from Oberndorf. The machinery was supplied by
Heckler & Koch and Fritz-Werner. The latter was also allowed to sell equipment for the
production of ammunition to Indumilas well as the necessary raw material. The West German
diplomats used the activities of the state owned company Fritz-Werner as a discreet
loophole in the laws that restricted the export of German arms: "Transfers of this
kind make Colombia independent of imports of ammunition which helps us to reach our goal
of stopping the export of arms and ammunition to countries like Colombia."
The result was a further escalation of the violent conflicts in Colombia, all the more
dramatic since other war parties also acquired the G3 which was dearly nicknamed by
Bundeswehr-troops as "the bride of the German soldier". According to the
renowned small arms expert Edward Ezell, Colombian drug lords purchased Portuguese-made G3
seized in Angola from Cuba. In 1989 1.000 G3 from Portuguese licence production destined
for leftwing guerrillas were confiscated in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. The
proliferation went on and on. In 2003 the Colombian media reported about the smuggling of
G3 and HK33 assault rifles from Ecuador. A UN-report in 2006 mentioned the illicit import
of G3 originating from stocks of the Peruvian national guard.
The G3 continued to be the main weapon of the Colombian army until the Nineties. Today
its soldiers use the Israeli Galil as their standard rifle, produced under licence by
Indumil. Nevertheless, Heckler & Koch rifles are still in service. According to its
own internet homepage Indumilīs arms plant in Soacha still does repair work on G3. In May
2007 it published an invitation of tenders for spare parts to maintain the machinery of
Fritz-Werner. Disused G3 were not all scrapped, some ended up on the black market. For
instance, the "Aguilas Negras" had received G3 from a corrupt police officer.
The German government must face up to its historical responsibility. Therefore it should
give massive support to disarmament programmes in Colombia.
is a researcher in the Berlin
Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS). He writes his PhD-thesis on the
history of German-Sudanese Relations.