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LatinNews Daily - 15 January 2019

Mexico’s new petrol fuel distribution strategy under threat

Development: On 14 January, the authorities in Mexico’s Guanajuato state reported that an oil tanker truck from the state-owned oil firm, Pemex, had been held up and stolen by criminals as it passed through the state.

Significance: The incident highlights a potential pitfall in the new national petrol fuel distribution system that the government led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has implemented since the start of the year to help combat oil theft and the criminal gangs dedicated to this (locally known as ‘huachicoleros’). This strategy relies on the use of tanker trucks to deliver petrol fuels across the country rather than Pemex pipelines which have been regularly tapped by huachicolero groups. The López Obrador government maintains that the strategy, which has led to fuel shortages in swathes of Mexico due to logistical issues, will succeed in reducing oil theft. However, the incident in Guanajuato raises serious questions about this and suggests that the government’s strategy could lead to an increase in violent crime.

  • The theft of the Pemex tanker truck was confirmed by Guanajuato Governor Diego Sinhue. In an official statement he said that the tanker, which was carrying 25,000 litres of petrol fuel to the state, had been held up by unidentified armed men in the Celaya-Juventino Rosas highway. Sinhue said that the state authorities were already investigating the incident, but he also called on the federal authorities to get involved.
  • The incident in Guanajuato took place as the López Obrador government continues to face criticism from the general public and the political opposition over the problems and unintended consequences that the new fuel distribution strategy has created.  Yesterday López Obrador insisted that, the despite the unexpected distribution problems, the new strategy was working and that there had been a marked fall in oil theft from pipelines since the start of the year.
  • Yet López Obrador also announced the re-opening of seven Pemex oil pipelines that have been temporarily closed as part of the new strategy after the security forces had expelled all huachicoleros groups from the area and are now patrolling it. López Obrador said that this would help to normalise the distribution of petrol fuel across the country; and he urged the population to exercise patience and to continue supporting his government’s plan as “it is working”.

Looking Ahead: Despite López Obrador’s assurances, Governor Sinhue, a member of the right-wing opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), complained about a lack of coordination with the federal government over the provision of security for Pemex tanker trucks so as to prevent further thefts. Sinhue’s complaints raise pointed questions over the implementation of the government’s strategy.