Merida, Yucatan — While drivers here may not be starved for gasoline, the fuel crisis could affect southeast Mexico in other ways.
Delivery trucks may not be able to reach the Peninsula if they can’t fill their tanks, officials warned.
A crackdown against fuel theft has led to the shutdown of pipelines that serve Mexico City and several states. Now, drivers there are preoccupied with finding open gas stations, where in many cases, petroleum is being rationed.
Officials said the problem stems from a decision to shut down some pipelines long tapped by gasoline thieves, or huachicoleros. Criminal networks distribute the stolen gasoline to regional suppliers, who sell the discounted gas openly in many parts of Mexico.
In Yucatan, a fuel crisis is unlikely since it is shipped directly from Veracruz by water, said Michel Salum Francis, president of the National Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism (Canaco-Servytur) Mérida.
However, he stressed that if the situation is not solved soon, there could be shortages in products that cannot reach the state due to the lack of fuels for cargo trucks.
The cost of products would also increase, Salum warned.
Fuel thefts are not unusual on the Peninsula. Pemex on Wednesday confirmed the discovery of a clandestine fuel tap at San Ignacio, near the Progreso Supply Terminals on the Merida-Progreso Highway.
In 2018, three were killed at Sierra Papacal when they allegedly tried to tap pipelines; another explosion at Paraíso resulted in no fatalities or arrests.
In the last 12 months, more than 30,000 liters of stolen fuel have been confiscated in Homún, Sisal, Hunucmá and on the Mérida-Cancún highway, police said.
But no fuel lines have yet been closed in Yucatan, as they have elsewhere starting around Dec. 27.
President Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador has defended his approach to protecting federal fuel supplies.
“It would be easy to open the pipelines and say ‘the situation is back to normal,’ but that would be tolerating the theft, and accept it, and we are not going to do that,” Lopez Obrador said. “We are going to resist all the pressures.”
Lopez Obrador said the thefts occurred in collusion with buyers and employees inside plants operated by the state-owned Pemex. The state oil company lost about US$3 billion to fuel theft last year, according to the government.
Business leaders agreed that action was long overdue, but said the crackdown should have been better planned to avoid gasoline shortages.
“This decision was brave and couldn’t be delayed any longer, but the implementation was clumsy and the planning was the worst,” wrote Gustavo de Hoyas, the president of the Mexican employers’ federation.
Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope echoed those thoughts, saying that “nobody in his right mind could be against this. The problem isn’t the goal, it is the methods.”
“It’s like closing the highways to fight highway robberies,” Hope said.
Sources: AP, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, La Jornada Maya