The gasoline thieves of Mexico 

Looking for gas stations that are still open, lining up for hours – sometimes without success because there is not enough gasoline for everyone. Traffic jams due to the people waiting in front of gas stations that are still open, panic purchasing – unimaginable? In Mexico this is becoming the “norm” and for a metropolis like Mexico City where the public transport network is poorly developed, it means chaos. Not only Mexico City is affected, gasoline is becoming scarce in seven other states such as Querétaro, Michoacán and Guanajuato. But how does Mexico run out of gas?

The Sofisticated System of the Huachicoleo

Huachicoleo, is what the gasoline theft is called in Mexico (stolen gasoline is called huachicol) and this underground illegal practice has grown enormously in recent years. Last year alone, the state oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) lost an estimated $ 3 billion alone to Huachicoleo. The masterminds behind the elaborate gasoline theft were employed by Pemex themselves and developed a sophisticated system to cheat their employer on a large scale for years. To do this, they needed colleagues in the refineries and petrol depots – from the controller of the monitors to the supervisor in charge of loading the tankers to loading assistants and drivers – who were willing to take part in the huachicoleo to improve their salary.

At the end of December 2018, this network was discovered within the oil company. Three participants were arrested; including the Pemex security chief Eduardo León Trauwitz. He was the chief bodyguard to ex-president Enrique Peña Nieto when he was governor of the state of Estado de México.

The System Works Quite Simply

The gas stations send their monthly order to Pemex, the volume is based on the average delivery to consumers. The tankers, whose capacity is 15,000 liters, must be paid one day before delivery via a defined account that must be registered with Pemex. Numerous gas station attendants from several central states in Mexico ordered less than half of the gasoline that they actually needed. The rest was also received from Pemex, but for cash or deposits made into the Huachicolero bank accounts.

In the gasoline depots where the tankers are filled, accomplices monitored and manipulated the measuring devices and control monitors so that only half of the gasoline delivered was registered and billed, but actually twice as much was delivered. The gas station then bought the stolen gasoline at a much lower price of 14 pesos and sold it to consumers at the official price of approx. 21 pesos. An insane business. Nine million liters of petrol are said to have been stolen every day which corresponds to 600 tankers. Pemex employees also informed of so-called “milkers” who are a group of people tapping into the pipelines to steal the gasoline. When this happens there is a considerable drop in the pressure of the pipelines, making it obvious to anyone supervising the situation that something is amiss.

Numerous parts of the country dominated by agriculture live from the “Huachicoleros”. You can find their depots in backyards and in street stalls, right under the eyes of the police. Many bus drivers, transport companies and taxi drivers stock up on this form of stolen and more economical petrol.

The President Defends his Plan: There is Enough Gasoline in Mexico

On December 20, the new government lead by president Andrés Manuel López Obrador implemented an action plan against gasoline theft. They organized for the gasoline to be temporarily “safely” delivered to the tapping stations in drums and tankers instead of via pipelines.

It is about “eradicating a corrupt system from the root” that is closely interwoven with public administration, said López Obrador, Mexico’s new president. The government plan also has the army monitoring the refineries and oil facilities. Approximately 4,000 soldiers are protecting 58 Pemex facilities.

Given the supply bottlenecks in different parts of the country, President López Obrador is trying to calm the public´s mind. It is a “temporary situation until we solve the gasoline theft problem”. There is enough petrol in the country. “It would be easy to open the pipelines and say that the situation has normalized, but that would mean knowingly maintaining, i.e. accepting and tolerating the corruption and theft. We will not do that.”

However, it was not considered that 5,000 tankers currently in use are not sufficient to meet the demand.

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