Authorities in central Mexico discovered the bodies of nine men in vehicles near a fuel pipeline on Tuesday last week, prompting renewed concerns about widespread fuel theft and gang violence. Officials suspect possible involvement in illegal siphoning activities as the circumstances around the deaths remain under investigation.
Mexico has long battled organized crime groups that steal gasoline, diesel, and natural gas from government pipelines. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December 2018, has made curbing this illicit activity a key priority.
"The bodies were found in two vehicles near the pipeline north of Mexico City," stated Ángel Rangel Nieves, police chief of San Juan del Rio city in Queretaro state. The vehicles bore license plates from Hidalgo, a nearby state notorious for its high concentration of fuel theft operations.
Despite deploying thousands of troops to guard pipelines, authorities continue to discover numerous illegals taps each year. Approximately 5,600 such taps were found nationally in 2023, a slight decrease from 2022 but comparable to 2018 levels.
Although a crackdown on open sales of stolen fuel led to initial success, losses for state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) have spiked in recent years, ballooning from $275 million per year in 2019 and 2020 to over $1.1 billion in 2022.
The fuel theft problem isn't confined to Mexico, impacting neighboring countries as well. In October 2023, cartel gunmen reportedly forced gas tanker trucks to dump their loads in Matamoros, Mexico, near the U.S. border.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from Brownsville, Texas, addressed this incident in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, highlighting its detrimental impact on border communities.
Beyond economic issues, pipeline taps exacerbate gang violence and pose significant safety risks for residents. In 2019, a tragic explosion at an illegally tapped pipeline in Hidalgo claimed at least 134 lives as locals attempted to collect leaking gasoline.
The discovery of the nine bodies underscores the ongoing challenges Mexico faces in tackling fuel theft, a deeply entrenched criminal activity intertwined with violence and public safety concerns.