Roughly 2,000 firearms were melted down in a blazing furnace Tuesday as part of an effort designed to combat gun trafficking and corruption in Jamaica while reducing violent crime.
Police, government and U.N. officials destroyed pistols and revolvers by pitching them into a kiln glowing bright orange at a cement factory in the capital of Kingston. Most of the guns were decommissioned or seized in police operations over the years.
National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who has been in office for just over a month, said the destruction of the weapons is an important first step toward managing the sizable stockpiles of guns in Jamaica and reducing the risk of theft.
"The removal will help to reduce the risks of these weapons being possibly diverted back into the illicit trade," Bunting said at the Jamaica Constabulary Force armory.
William Godnick, a coordinator with the U.N. Regional Center for Peace Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, said the destruction of the guns "is the beginning of a long process in which we hope to destroy a much larger quantity."
The primary goal is "to prevent theft and loss," Godnick said.
Last year, a Jamaican police sergeant was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing guns and bullets from the Kingston armory. He was arrested after agents seized 18 high-powered weapons and 11,000 rounds of ammunition that were stolen for sale to criminals.
Bunting, who recently announced that he hopes to develop new policies encouraging police use of non-lethal weapons such as Tasers to stem a high rate of police killings, told reporters that reducing stockpiles can also "remove temptation" from rogue officers who may plant weapons.
He said a crime spike so far in 2012 shows that advances the Caribbean country has made combating gangs and crime since 2010 are fragile.
"We can't let up in our efforts to combat crime," Bunting said.
In a report last year, the World Bank estimated that violence and crime cost this Caribbean country roughly $400 million a year.
With arsenals to rival police firepower, gangs whose turf wars have long plagued gritty parts of the island are blamed for the majority of Jamaica's homicides. The large majority of the gangs' weapons are smuggled from the United States.
Illegal guns come in on freighters and in "guns-for-ganja" deals by fishermen, who carry homegrown marijuana to nearby Haiti and return with pistols, revolvers and submachine guns _ many of them believed to be from the U.S. as well.
On Wednesday, officials will destroy roughly a half ton of ammunition at the cement factory.
David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd