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Gasoline Theft Is Out of Control in Puebla and Growing in Other Mexican States

Mark Stevenson - The Associated Press
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July 14, 2017
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So far this year, fifty-thousand litres of gasoline has been stolen from 600 illegal taps in an area known as the Red Triangle (TRT World)

Fuel theft in Mexico used to be a few villagers drilling holes in pipelines and carrying away the gasoline in jugs. But the heavy arms and violence seen in a confrontation last week in Puebla state reflect its growth into a billion-dollar business that supplies not just the people selling gas on the sides of highways — called "huachicoleros" — but factories and gasoline station chains.

It has become an industrial-scale operation, involving a string of villages and hamlets along pipeline routes, not just in Puebla, but in Guanajuato, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and other Mexican states. The government says more than 6,000 illegal pipeline taps were found in 2016 and officials have been detecting an average of about 20 taps a day this year. It estimates fuel theft costs Mexico about $1 billion a year.

"Of all the fuel that is stolen, only 10 percent is sold to the public" by roadside vendors, said Jesus Morales, the top police official in Puebla state. "The other 90 percent goes to big business groups, to gas stations, factories."

The fuel theft gangs often have the support of corrupt local officials and the residents of towns that rely on the income from pipeline tapping. Two mayors have been arrested for involvement in the trade.

As the stakes have risen, fuel theft has become a blood industry.

In early July, nine people were killed, including five men whose bodies were burned, in a dispute between fuel thieves in the town of Huehuetlan in Puebla state. Morales said the killings involved a gang of distributors trying to collect from local vendors who were unable to meet their sales quotas because of police raids.

"They committed this barbarous act as a gesture of anger," said Morales, who claimed that vendors have recently raised the price of stolen fuel to near that of legitimate gasoline — it used to be half as much — because their supplies are being cut off.

Read the rest at The Chronicle

Related: 180,000 Transportation Vehicles Use Stolen Fuel in Mexico (El Universal)


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