Social media users are claiming Mexican TV reported that anti-tank missile systems the United States sent to Ukraine ended up in the hands of a Mexican cartel. This is false; the claims are based on a mistranslation of the segment, which showed a man sporting apparent gang insignia carrying the same type of military-grade weapon used in Ukraine — but did not say the artillery was diverted from Kyiv.
“Mexican TV reports that dozens of U.S. AT-4 weapons systems, which were originally shipped to Ukraine, have been purchased by Cartel Golfo in Mexico,” says a May 31, 2023 tweet from “Citizen Free Press,” an account that has previously spread misinformation.
Another widespread tweet says: “A Javelin anti-tank missile given to Ukraine valued at $80,000 ends up in the hands of a Mexican cartel (Gulf) member #DefundUkraine.”
Similar claims took off on Twitter and other platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, amplified by the Russian embassy in Mexico, the conspiratorial website Zero Hedge and prominent US conservatives including activist Jack Posobiec, former congressman Ron Paul and Republican 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.
“US military weapons including Javelin anti-tank missiles and missile launchers are now being used to arm the Mexican drug cartels south of our own border,” Ramaswamy said in a video shared on Twitter.
“I’m not kidding,” he said. “Weapons that we have sent to Ukraine to protect somebody else’s border halfway around the world end up south of our own border in the hands of narco-terrorist Mexican drug cartels.”
But the posts are based on a mistranslation of a television report from the Mexican network Milenio, which showed footage of a man carrying a large weapon while wearing a backpack featuring what appears to be an emblem associated with the Gulf Cartel, an organized crime group based in Matamoros, Mexico near the US border with Texas.
Contrary to the claims online, anchor Azucena Uresti did not say the artillery in question flowed from Ukraine — only that the same type of weapon has been used as the country continues its war with Russia.
“An alleged member of the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas was recorded carrying one of the most exclusive and powerful weapons, a ‘Javelin,’ which in theory is only sold to the army and has been used during the invasion of Ukraine, for example,” she said in Spanish in the video, which she tweeted May 31 (archived here).
An article on Milenio’s website uses similar language.
AFP contacted Uresti for comment, but no response was forthcoming.
No evidence weapon diverted from Ukraine
Mark Hvizda, a defense analyst at RAND Corporation, told AFP that while the Javelin locks onto a target before firing and has a maximum range of 2,500 meters, AT4 rockets are manually aimed and recoilless, with a shorter range of about 400 meters. A Swedish company is their main manufacturer, Hvizda said.
“These weapons are in service with a number of different militaries around the world, so (the AT4 in the video) could potentially be from a non-US stock,” Hvizda said.
“As many senior (Department of Defense officials) have said recently, including in testimony to Congress, we’ve seen no credible evidence of the illicit diversion of security assistance equipment that was originally destined for Ukraine,” Lieutenant Commander Tim Gorman, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP in a June 3 email.
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at George Mason University and expert on US-Mexico relations and organized crime, said armed groups in Mexico have long had black-market access to weapons from around the world.
“Those arms have been in the possession of these groups and have been circulating in the black market also for a number of years,” said Correa-Cabrera, who authored a book on Los Zetas, a crime syndicate formed as the Gulf Cartel’s enforcement arm. “They are not new.”
But she cautioned little is known in general about the trafficking of weapons among these groups on the black market — or about the specific man and weapon in the video shared online.
It is difficult to confirm that the man is a Gulf Cartel member, Correa-Cabrera said, and “there’s no evidence whatsoever” that the rocket he was holding came from a US stockpile sent to Ukraine.
“We don’t really know anything. Just a photograph of one alleged member of a cartel is not proof that these arms were accessed in a certain form.”
AFP has previously debunked other misinformation about the Ukraine conflict here.