Half-price gasoline hawked by roadside vendors is one of the more obvious manifestations of Mexico’s national fuel-theft epidemic, reports the New York Times. Thieves are now siphoning gasoline and diesel fuel at record-high rates from the system — often by drilling taps into pipelines under cover of darkness — and are selling it on the black market around Mexico and perhaps even in the United States and Central America. It’s a worsening crisis that is robbing the federal government of more than a billion dollars a year in stolen fuel and imperiling Mexico’s efforts to attract foreign investment in its energy industry as it ends more than seven decades of state monopoly. And the government seems unable to stop it.
“The problem comes down to the fact that the rule of law is weak in Mexico,” said Dwight Dyer, an analyst of the Mexican energy sector. The rise in thefts has been driven by the increasing involvement of some of the nation’s largest criminal organizations, whose income has been diminished by narcotics-trafficking crackdowns. Pivoting to gasoline, they have used bribery and violence to co-opt officials at all levels of government, including workers at Pemex, the state-owned energy company. The criminal groups have also cultivated widespread support among local residents, some of whom have found lucrative employment with the gangs and many of whom are happy to pay the far lower prices for black-market fuel.