Corruption crackdown sees fuel shortages strike Mexico

Gas stations in parts of Mexico are running out of fuel — as officials crack down on fuel thieves. It’s part of a campaign by new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador against corruption and organized crime. But his offensive is cutting off supplies to motorists — as well as criminals. CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock has more from Mexico City.

Chaos on the streets of Mexico City this week, as citizens wait in lines several kilometers long, just to get a tank of gas. It’s the result of a campaign by the country’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to crack down on pipeline fuel theft. He said the crime costs Mexico more than $3 billion a year.

“We have intervened and we already have control of the pipelines, and distribution will be opened up little by little,” he told the country in a televised press conference. “We have to control the pipelines, without cutting off the supply.”

Illegal pipeline tapping grew exponentially during the administration of previous president Enrique Pena Nieto. Lopez Obrador wasted little time after taking office in December in making good on his promise to take action.

AMLO’s plan to crack down on theft includes providing military escorts for fuel trucks and shutting down Pemex pipelines while the company looks for ways to prevent cartels from siphoning away gas. While the president claims fuel theft has dropped dramatically from previous levels, the crisis has resulted in severe shortages across six states.

At Mexico City gas stations, motorists wait for hours with some even pushing their vehicles to the pump to save fuel.

‘That’s what I gotta do to keep my job,’ said a Mexico City construction worker.

Rogelio Calderon is an energy consultant, and said the sudden shortage simply demonstrates the scale of pipeline theft.

“Before the strategy came online we had illegal and legal fuel on offer,” Calderon said. “So it’s both, nobody knows what percentage. So now, if the government shuts it down and administers the pipelines, we have way less illegal fuel, but we still have the same demand.”

Despite the current shortage and the havoc it’s causing, the strategy is supported by many in the fuel industry.

“The fuel theft is affecting the national economy, and we’re in favor of these measures being taken,” said Mexico City fuel station owner Jose Antonio Parra. “Of course the shortage is a consequence of it, but it’s worth the inconvenience.”

Most Mexicans said they, too, support AMLO’s offensive against black market fuel. But the growing impact on private industry, and the difficulties everyday citizens are now facing to get the fuel they need to earn a living are raising questions about how long that support will last.