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Feature 012918 Kjelstad

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mexico's PEMEX Says Fuel Theft Reached All-Time High in 2017

By Bjorn Kjelstad (InSight Crime)

Mexico’s state oil company says it experienced record levels of fuel theft in 2017, but the underlying drivers of this issue are unlikely to be addressed in the near term, as officials this year will be distracted by an overall deepening of insecurity in the country as well as a general election scheduled for July.

Statistics released on January 15 by Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), show the company recorded 9,509 incidents of fuel theft in 2017, shattering the previous year’s record of 6,873 cases. The new data add to a years-long trend of increasing incidents of fuel theft in Mexico.

According to the report, cases of fuel theft continued to occur in traditional regions, specifically those that contain large pipelines connected to main refineries. States that saw the most cases of illicit fuel syphoning in 2017 were Guanajuato with 1,696, Puebla with 1,343, and Tamaulipas with 1,033 cases.

Furthermore, regions that traditionally experienced relatively low levels of violence, such as Guanajuato and Puebla, also witnessed upticks in homicides as criminal groups continued to battle for local and international drug markets, along with territory to conduct illegal fuel theft.

InSight Crime Analysis

The growing precariousness of the security situation in Mexico will likely hinder the implementation of innovative strategies to stop the seemingly inexorable rise in fuel theft observed in recent years. Moreover, the upcoming election will consume much of the attention of policymakers in the near term, further limiting their ability to take concrete steps toward addressing the drivers of this economically and environmentally harmful crime.

To counter rising insecurity and violence, the Mexican government seems poised to continue its long-time approach of increased militarization. However, in addition to various human rights concerns, the strategy continues to prove itself ineffective in achieving long-term security gains.

With regards to fuel theft, militarization has been unable to successfully combat the root issues of this growing illicit business, namely corruption and impunity. Soldiers are not trained to mount complex corruption investigations. And civilian police and judicial authorities have proven not to be up to the task, either.

See also: Coverage of Oil Theft

In the past, corruption networks have involved members at all levels of the Pemex hierarchy. In many cases, engineers charge a fee to criminal groups in exchange for information on how and where to effectively syphon off petroleum from pipelines that crisscross throughout the country.

However, despite implementing tougher penalties for those involved in oil theft, like almost all crimes in Mexico, corruption at Pemex has gone largely unpunished due to structural weaknesses in the law enforcement and justice systems.

New and creative proposals emanating from policymakers will likely be inhibited by elections. As politicians and political parties shift their focus towards winning regional and federal elections in July, the amount of attention they can devote to policymaking will decrease, limiting their ability to put forth any new policy proposals in the near future.

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This commentary was first published in InSight Crime and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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