A rise in the number oil thefts this year in Mexico has provided further evidence that this high-profile criminal economy may be too massive for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s to fully deal with.
January and May, Mexico saw 6,621 instances of oil theft nationwide, according
to new data from state oil company, Pemex. This marked a slight 1.6 percent
rise, or 91 more thefts than the 6,530 registered over the same period in 2018.
first five months of the year, the states with the most illegal taps of oil
pipelines were Hidalgo with 2,170 thefts, followed by the State of Mexico
(923), Puebla (677), Tamaulipas (673), and Guanajuato (629).
quantities of gasoline stolen, however, are vastly lower than during the first
five months of 2018, with Pemex estimating the total volume has dropped by as
much as 93 percent.
report also showed that focusing on eradicating oil theft in one particular
area may have little overall impact since thefts will spike somewhere else.
part of the Mexican campaign against oil theft has been focused on the state of
Guanajuato, particularly against the Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima, who are
experts in this criminal economy.
this campaign has brought the amount of oil thefts down by 17 percent this year
in Guanajuato, thefts spiked by 182 percent in Hidalgo.
certain states where oil theft was a rare occurrence, numbers have jumped, with
Chiapas going from two thefts in early 2018 to 14 this year.
important dynamic, President López Obrador is correct: The amount of gasoline
pilfered from Mexico’s pipelines has plummeted since he took office. A
militarized presence around refineries, targeting specialized criminal groups
and choosing to move some oil supplies with tanker trucks have helped.
ongoing war against the Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima in Guanajuato has
allegedly led to the arrests of around 50 percent of the group’s members. But
this has only worsened a spiral of violence that has led the murder rate in
Guanajuato — an important industrial and tourism state — to climb by 400
percent in four years.
Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima, arguably Mexico’s most prominent criminal group
dedicated to oil theft, may soon be brought down. It lacks the size and
criminal diversity of its larger rivals.
as Pemex’s report shows, this prolonged campaign by the government against oil
thieves lacks staying power. While it is a steady means of profit for criminal
groups, tapping into a pipeline is also an opportunity for poorer communities
to stock up on gasoline.
Hidalgo pipeline explosion last January, which left 137 people dead, happened
after hundreds of local residents descended on the site.
Pemex figures show just how oil theft will survive and spread, popping up in
new areas when existing accesses are closed. Stopping criminal groups is one
thing. Addressing the socio-economic conditions that lead thousands of ordinary
Mexicans to resort to oil theft across the country is quite another.