At long last, President Enrique Peña Nieto has decided to act upon at least one part of the energy problem which is gasoline theft in different ducts. But the question continues to be, what took the great promoter of the controversial Energy Reform so long to do something to protect Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) from thieves?
Tax Administration Service (SAT) chief Osvaldo Santín says that at present there are 70,000 companies being investigated for participation in selling and buying stolen gasoline and diesel through counterfeit invoicing and “ghost” companies that exist only on paper. Though the 12,000 existing filling stations in the country are suspect of buying stolen fuels, the main culprits are in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato and Veracruz, what is known now as the “huachicol zone” or the stolen fuel area. Let’s hope the SAT investigation gives results.
In looking back not too far, all may have started, with the relief at the helm of Pemex at the beginning of 2016 of Emilio Lozoya, by current oil czar Jose Antonio González Anaya. Lozoya was removed due to a major corruption scandal caused by Brazilian Odelbrecht Oil Company, which got contracts with Pemex for an alleged bribe of $5 million. Lozoya was never investigated, just removed.
González Anaya, an economist from MIT and Harvard, began to make drastic changes in the Pemex administration, and in an interview published Thursday by England’s The Financial Times he confesses that the losses to Pemex because of fuels theft amount to approximately $1.6 billion a year.
Still, three years ago President Peña Nieto appointed Brigadier General Eduardo León Trauwitz as sub-director of Strategic Safety at Pemex. This department is directly in charge of overseeing the integrity and security of the many Pemex ducts. General Trauwitz was Peña Nieto’s security chief while he served as State of Mexico governor from 2005 to 2011.
The News editor Raymundo Rivapalacio says in his popular daily syndicated column in Spanish that General Trauwitz had heated arguments with Pemex Logistics engineers as to the theft, and that there were insiders carrying it out, but the logistics personnel always responded that surveillance was not their field. The feud over “huachicol” (as stolen gasoline is known) went on for three years until it burst into the open at the beginning of this year.
Rivapalacio put together the sequence of events showing that finally, at long last and after losses to Pemex of zillions, President Peña Nieto decided to act last May.
On Feb. 11, 2017, in the so-called Red Triangle of eight municipalities through which the Minatitlán duct crosses on its path to Mexico City, the duct thieves of “huachicoleros” assassinated a Quecholac municipality council member for denouncing their theft. An investigation ensued and on March 9 the “huachicoleros” carried out the assassination of three investigative agents of the Kidnapping and High Impact Crimes office of the Attorney General, who were in hot pursuit of one of the “huachicolero” gangs. On March 16, several journalists covering the fuel theft denounced having received death threats in the area. On March 27, regular residents of the area attacked a military convoy to prevent them from confiscating two pickup trucks loaded with stolen fuel. On April 26, the “huachicoleros” attacked a military group with high powered rifles in response for their confiscating, this time several vehicles laden with fuel.
Finally, on May 3 an armed group of “huachicoleros” and many townspeople of Palmarito in the Quecholac municipality attacked another group of about 30 soldiers in response to the confiscation of yet another vehicle with stolen fuel. In the shootout, four soldiers and six of the armed men attacking them ended up dead.
“It was only then that the government reacted,” comments Rivapalacio. Indeed the problem had more than just gotten out of hand and represented a veritable breach that imperiled national security.
It was only then too that President Peña Nieto ordered the presence in the Red Triangle of 2,500 permanent troops who join the existing but obviously insufficient 500 state of Puebla policemen to oversee the safety and security of the Minatitlán duct.
Since that day, barely three weeks ago, it became clear that literally thousands of people in the aforementioned states were participating in in the “huachicol business” with the protection of local authorities — several municipal mayors are under scrutiny — and even state and federal authorities as it is clear now that many Oil Workers Union members are involved in the thieving.
This is one issue that won’t go away soon, because the duct suckers feel offended by the government protection of the Pemex ducts (we have problems in Guanajuato, too, near the Salamanca refinery) because they are being pushed out of an industry that was for them an easy profit.
Hopefully, “duct milking” as “huachicol” is also known, will now be a priority to Pemex, which seems to be taking a good direction under the command of González Anaya.