By RICARDO CASTILLO
The good news is that by moving the Mexican Army to take over Pemex oil refineries, refined fuels theft stopped almost overnight.
The bad news is that, nowadays, the residents of the Guanajuato, Querétaro, Michoacán, Jalisco and State of Mexico (Edoméx) can´t get a liter of green or red gas for their vehicles. Theft stopped, but the move also paralyzed the economy in the above-mentioned states.
On Dec. 27, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced the Army was taking over Pemex facilities. Though he did not shell out figures at the time, in all the Army deployed 4,000 men to snatch the refineries away from the hands of thieves, apparently Mexican Oil Workers Union members.
On Monday, Jan. 7, President AMLO announced the continued deployment of the Army personnel with 900 extra soldiers, who went with very specific orders to nab six refineries, 39 storage and distribution terminals, and the national Logistics Control Facility, which manages 15 distribution centers.
AMLO said on Friday, Jan. 4, that there were three people under arrest who were but the tip of the iceberg of a national scam of “blatant theft” of refined fuels. AMLO said that, in terms of numbers, the thieves were stealing an average of 1,100 tanker trucks a day of gasoline and diesel (each rig carries 15,000 liters) immediately after shutting off several pipelines.
Guanajuato Governor Diego Sinhué Rodríguez announced Monday, Jan. 7, that the Salamanca refinery pipeline, which supplies the above-mentioned states, remains dry as workers are trying to repair the literally thousands of plugs made by thieves, who sucked fuel from them in order to resell it in the black market.
AMLO said that the damage to this and other pipelines was but a smokescreen, since the main theft was being done within Pemex by those in control of the Logistics Distribution Center, and apparently in association with a fleet of rigs owned by none other than Oil Workers Union leader Carlos Romero Deschamps, a man now right in the center of the fuel thievery spotlight as the mastermind behind the robbery.
According to new Pemex CEO Octavio Romero, over the past two years, an average of 2 billion liters were stolen annually. Romero was blunt in pointing out that the thieves were not pipeline thieves, but personnel working directly with the company. Blaming minor outside thieves was an attempt to divert attention from the facts. AMLO added that eight of every 10 stolen liters were carried out by Pemex personnel while by pipeline diggers known as “huachicoleros” (pronounce wa-chee-kol-eros) only robbed 20 percent of the total stolen gas.
The seizing of the pipelines from the Pemex Oil Workers Union included the nation’s most important pipelines. They are the Madero-Cadereyta line, which goes from the Gulf state of Tamaulipas to near Monterrey, Nuevo León, the Cadereyta-Reynosa duct, which is an extension of the first one, the Salamanca-Guadalajara duct and the Minatitlán-Mexico City duct, which goes 1,600 kilometers from the Gulf of Mexico coastal city of Minatitlán, Veracruz, to the nation’s capital. The latest one is the most damaged of the pipelines; calculations are that one of every three liters stolen came from it.
What will happen in the coming days is anybody’s guess, since it is clear that AMLO pulled this blow against fuel theft as promised in his campaign, “within the first 30 days of my mandate.”
And though AMLO is a highly seasoned politico, he definitely is no logistician and did not foresee the shortages coming from the drying up of the ducts and meeting with an increasing irritation of people who make a living using their means of transportation.
But also, is there politics in the drying up of fuel, specifically in Queretaro, Guanajuato, Michoacán, the State of México and Jalisco?
Pemex is informing the population that “there is no gasoline shortage” because there’s plenty in stock in the storage tanks, but since many of the rigs being used to ferry the fuel are controlled by the Oil Workers Union and are therefore not trustworthy. Delivery, particularly from the Salamanca refinery, is being done by the rigs to different filling stations.
Suspicion of AMLO’s supply cuts, particularly to the mentioned states, is running high in political circles. It just so happens that the five states have governors that belong to different political parties from AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena). Specifically, Querétaro and Guanajuato boast National Action Party (PAN) governors, while Michoacán is run by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the State of Mexico belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and Jalisco is of the Citizens’ Movements. AMLO’s support for his bid for president, it must be pointed out, was in these states low, with his losing upfront in Guanajuato.
But, then, there’s other types of politics. During his campaign, AMLO was claiming publicly in just about every stumping speech that though a crime, pipeline robbery was a minor one as the real “huachicoleros” were former Presidents Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and, most adamantly, Enrique Peña Nieto, under whose mandate reports of gas theft at the Attorney General’s Office grew by an estimated 400 percent, out of which only 10 percent had minor followup or investigation.
Also, Peña Nieto’s first Pemex director, Emilio Lozoya, stands accused of taking bribes in exchange for contracts with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Since none of those files have been made public in Mexico by the Attorney General, whatever is said is hearsay, but Lozoya is said to have taken a $10 million cash bribe for the contracts, most of which allegedly went to Peña Nieto’s money-squandering presidential campaign, which he won.
As a final note on all this, this writer is personally affected by the fuels shortage in San Miguel de Allende. Not that it’s important, but I am one of the bunch of people who can’t move their cars because filling stations are dry.
Surely, this is a theme Pulse News Mexico will continue to cover in the near offing.