Huachicoleros

Huachicoleros

Security experts have praised López Obrador’s willingness to take on fuel theft, an issue that was largely ignored under previous administrations, even though the problem was spiralling out of control. But two nights ago, I watched a political commentary program on TV, and the order of the day for the anti-AMLO segment of Mexico’s population is to scream bloody murder because of the gas shortages. (The people, the people… the POOR people,lamented one of the panel members.)

Many Mexicans and international residents of this country do not understand how the gas is stolen and why there are such shortages now. Today I will  attempt to explain this calamity as best I can.

Those who physically carry out the theft are mostly the poor bottom-feeders of “illicit groups”. They are called, huachicoleros. The closest “translation” I can come up with is “moonshiners” (I suppose because they try to stay hidden while they “do what they do”)

They know exactly where to find the product they need because their employers and their “associates” bribe Pemex employees to tell them what kind of gasoline runs through which duct. (It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out who the “associates”are.) To avoid catastrophic explosions the huachicolros must also know the pressure ratio inside the oil duct (Blow-ups happen more regularly than is reported.) During the peak of the huachicolero operation, it is estimated that 60,000 barrels of gasoline were stolen every day.

Once the pressure and pumping specifics of the selected oil duct have been confirmed, the huachicoleros  locate an unguarded spot along the route. Their support vehicles get into place. And with armed guards watching the area, the “experts” quickly drill a hole most of the way through the pipe, and then, so as not to cause a spark, they used a rubber mallet to crack open the last bit. Quickly a valve is inserted into the opening. This in turn is connected to a hose, that is attached to a tanker truck.  Apparently, the average procedure takes about 20 minutes.

The stolen gasoline is then trucked to clandestine depositories, and from these places, sold to gas stations for purchase by the public, or to companies with large fleets who use the illegal gas to fuel their convoys, and keep their expenses down.

Pemex used to be the highest revenue producer in Mexico, but with progressively more and more privatization, income from “the people’s oil company” dropped  lower; and once the huachicoleros stepped up their activities, the earnings plummeted even further.

The blame lies with PEMEX big-shots and the politicians, who have actively ignored security and allowed wholesale theft. As well, in recent years, some of the country’s most dangerous drug cartels have become involved in fuel theft.

Just this week, the Army found a two kilometre “side duct” on a major pipeline, leading to a clandestine storage center. This gas was purchased at below market cost and without being taxed. Several hundred stations around the country, that purportedly bought the illegal product, have closed for lack of gas to sell. Some critics claim that although AMLO may have good intentions, he should have “done this differently”. But they never explain just “how” he might have done so.

It is estimated that $7.4 billion in fuel has been stolen since 2016. The cartels are unlikely to accept such a massive losses in revenue without responding.

However, this practise is robbing the nation on a massive scale, and thus cuts government funding for all the state expenses. Like health care, building highways, old-age pensions. It has to be stopped.

Yes, there is a gasoline shortage right now. It may last longer than initially anticipated, but in the end, it should reflect more revenue for the state, without much affecting the “regular” consumers’  cost for gasoline. The old guard can whine all they want, but I suspect that the complaints are more about the loss of income from their “side jobs” than from their concern about “the people of Mexico”.

And one final comment. I do feel sorry for the states without enough gas, but we need to support our president in his efforts to clean up the many messes in Mexico. The way the newscasters carry on seems like a plea to get themselves back in the limelight, and mostly supports their own interests.

Among the information sources for this post is: Mexfiles. The author usually proves to be spot-on. Well reported Richard!

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2 thoughts on “Huachicoleros

  1. The fuel shortages, inconvenient though they surely are for so many ordinary Mexicans, can also be taken as a signal that ‘business as usual’ in Mexico is already in for a change. “Faith in the people” is surely called for here, since few are under the illusion that the creation of more functional state institutions – and some degree of popular faith in them – was ever going to happen overnight. Mexico will need to draw from its famously deep wells of patience. It will also be interesting to see if AMLO does anything about the liberalization of the hydrocarbons market under the previous regime. Thanks for the very informative post.

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  2. This is a very helpful and informative summary. Thank you. I heard comments on the situation from 2 taxi drivers in the past 2 days, with different takes on the situation. The first taxi driver (in Guanajuato), was mostly just complaining about the impact of having to line up for hours for gas and wondering how long it would go on. He thought the approach to dealing with the huachicolero problem should have been done more slowly and gradually to avoid the current shortages. But the taxi driver in Mexico City had a more complex analysis. He clearly understood that this issue had to be dealt with in a quick and decisive manner, both to give notice that it is no longer “business as usual” and to avoid giving all those involved in this lucrative scheme time to develop alternative strategies. He referred to things like that parallel illegal pipeline to illustrate the level of involvement of officials (PEMEX and political). He pointed out that to be able to do that kind of construction, and to shut down the legitimate pipeline for at least a few days to connect the illicit one, is not the work of some ragtag bandits tapping into the ducts under cover of night. He was clearly an AMLO supporter and said that the role of all of us who want to see AMLO achieve his agenda is to “agauntar” (endure, put up with the inconveniences). He also pointed out all the naysayers about AMLO’s social initiatives (e.g. to improve the health care system, education, and other social services) say, “Where will he get the money?”, but the sheer dollar amount involved in the theft of gasoline illustrates that it’s not that Mexico doesn’t have enough money, but that the money is being diverted through corruption, graft and outright theft of the nation’s resources. The taxi driver also mentioned that AMLO himself waited a couple of hours in a line-up for gas, saying he refused to have special privileges for himself. For this man, that example is a crowning glory of the current president. “He’s not doing this to enrich himself, he’s doing it for the good of the nation,”

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