91 dead and 52 hospitalized. That’s the current casualty count on the most recent gasoline robbing affray on Mexican soil. A clandestine petroleum theft in the Tuxpan-Tula Pemex duct on the evening of Friday the 18th. The incident occurred close to the district of Tlahuelilpan, to some 100 kilometers of Mexico City.
The nations current political climate has forced the state to take a definitive step against the prevailing ambiance of corruption in the country. So far this has been demonstrated by the actions the current Mexican incumbency has taken to dismantle the illicit activities done by the “huachicoleros” (gasoline robbers and consequent black market vendors) and other unscrupulous high standing officials. The practice of “huachicoleo”, as it has been named by the people, has been one that’s not been too uncommon these past few years, with videos springing up on social media of people bathing in oil or carrying bucketloads of gasoline in their arms.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the current Mexican president, has spoken of a plan to denounce and combat these illegal practices. According to official estimates, the theft of combustible has cost the state losses of up to 65,000 million pesos each year. The strategy presented involved closing valves on at least four of the thirteen gas ducts belonging to Pemex and to, mainly, transport the petroleum via trucks. Thereby causing the supplies do not meet the demand and massive public discontent.
After the recent rapture and leakage of a duct by “huachicoleros” , who fled the scene close after the local authorities were notified. groups of men, women and sometimes even children rushed forward to supply the need for petroleum by robbing the incessant flow. The nearest city mayor assures the media that as soon as the spew was noticed, military forces were summoned to barricade the area. But it appears that the mass of men, estimated at about 600-800, was more than the reportedly 25 military men were prepared to supervise and the villagers took advantage of the situation by carrying buckets and pitchers to resume their ravaging plunder. Reporters attest to the fact that military men urged villagers to vacate the area but that their attempts were ignored, dismissed or even met with apparent hostility and aggression.
For two hours, beginning since 17:00 (23:00 GMT), it seemed to be a rather obnoxious but still harmless pillaging event, as videos demonstrate. It looked even as if a celebration was taking part, children and families danced and sang as the containers were filled. But it didn’t last long as then disaster struck and a six-meter flame could be seen to spring out of the duct alongside an explosion. It is said by witnesses that the fire created a sort of cordon around the majority of the people, trapping many in the hot inferno. Curiously, what kindled the catastrophe is still unknown.
AMLO immediately responded to the tragedy via twitter “I am very sorry for the serious situation in Tlahuelilpan due to the explosion of a pipeline. I am in Aguascalientes and, since the director of Pemex and the Secretary of Defense informed me, I gave instructions so that the fire is controlled and the victims are treated.” He also promised to redouble the efforts in squashing the epidemic the thieves have created.
“We’re going to follow the plan. I’m sorry for what happened, but things have to change,“ Lopez Obrador expressed his concern to a morning press conference on Saturday, January 19.
This has not been the first occurrence of the infamous huachicoleo and it definitely won’t be the last. The government is conducting a deep dive into the trenches where corruption runs deep, a sort of crusade, and in their first phase of investigation, the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF in Spanish) has uncovered money laundering that involves politicians, former officials of Pemex and businessmen. To combat the combustible robbery it appears it is necessary to follow the yellow brick road to the heart of the problem, the illicit money laundering.
So far they have convicted 15 people that are accused of being associated with the “huachicoleo”. Santiago Nieto, director of the UIF, stated “we are in the presence of businessmen, but also of public servants.”, and “A former Pemex official, a former local deputy, a former municipal president related to the ownership of gasoline concessions and the commercialization of huachicol.”
This is the first time an investigation of this magnitude has been conducted in reference to the robbery of combustible. The head of the UIF has also stated that these men have acquired real state on an annual basis in their own name for their relatives or close persons in a now blatant manner as they steal unjustly from the people.
The number of businesses involved in this money laundering business has been identified as numbering close to fifty and spread over eight states around the country. But some government officials estimate the number to be higher, much higher, they proclaim that, at least, 194 gasoline proprietors could be included.
It is important to address how the “huachicoleo” is taking place. We could use a rather appalling but very real example that occurred in the streets of a middle-class neighborhood in the center of Mexico City. It is a Thursday morning that seems like any other, nothing amiss, except for a concrete mixer truck that suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. Almost immediately two commercial buses stopped alongside it and took out empty trash cans. The men grabbed the hose in the concrete mixer and instead of concrete coming out of it, lo and behold, petroleum starts pouring out of it and in no time the trash cans are fully loaded into the buses. The two bus drivers pay their dealer and each man is off in their own way.
This didn’t last more than a few minutes, and it seems scary that this practice, now done publicly, is more and more common, and is carried about in many different and surprisingly ingenious
ways. Both on the small scale of blue-collar workers and on the grander scale of their counterparts, white-collar workers.
Studies have demonstrated that this robbery has been consistently on the rise with it being 20% higher in 2018 than the previous year even though 2017 was amazingly 50% higher than the previous year. According to Pemex, in 2014 3635 hijackings of petroleum occurred, one year later it was measured at 5252 and, by 2016 the attacks mounted to 6873. With a final total of 12581 clandestine attacks and thefts in 2018.
The shockwave has begun to stir our own Mexican metropolis, Monterrey. This last weekend various fuel stations around the city have begun closing. It all began with a “Premium” fuel shortage, but the drought spread to “Magna”. Reportedly there have been hour-long waits to get the necessary fuel and in social media, users have attested to this fact by uploading numerous videos and tweets in outrage. Just a few days ago the General Secretary of State, Manuel González assuaged our fears by pronouncing that there was no shortage nor risk of it in our state. Although it is worth mentioning that one of the main problems could be the paranoia-incited fear that drove hundreds of people to stock their cars when it wasn’t necessary and that led to the outage by the incapacity of the gas stations to serve such a large amount of people all at once. And this fact is important because the reactions we have toward events like these can have really important impacts on the economy.
The President assures us that while, for now, this method and this relentless pursuit of the malefactors may seem unnerving, unnecessary and harmful to the common people, it is a necessary evil we must endure.
The consequences of this decision have stirred the waters and rippled out in the form of numerous controversies and outrages. Some support the resolve wholeheartedly and revere López Obrador with an almost disciple-like conviction. Others renounce it and claim that this is the beginning of the end of the Mexican economy and that soon we’ll find ourselves in a similar position to Venezuela. Of course, these stances are somewhat extreme and as of right now, it is hard to predict the long-lasting consequences of this course of action but, this goes to show the state that our current affairs are stirring in the minds of the populace and it warns us to be wary. And maybe, more importantly, it beckons us to not turn a blind eye to the occurrences happening in our country.
Written by: Luis Roberto Salazar
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