5/11/2017 The Economist
On a Monday afternoon cars queue up to enter the wholesale market outside San Salvador Huixcolotla, a town in the state of Puebla, in south-central Mexico. Two shabbily dressed young men warily eye the number plates and drivers. When your correspondent identified himself as a journalist, they lifted their T-shirts over their faces and brusquely ordered him to leave. They do not want inquisitive outsiders. That is because, alongside produce from nearby farms, the market sells stolen petrol. One of the sentries sported a length of petrol-siphoning hose as a hatband.
Fuel theft is increasing in Mexico, and Puebla is its focal point. Thieves drill into the pipeline that passes through the state—where it is more accessible than in neighbouring states—install a tap and drain the liquid. They sell it off the backs of trucks on roadsides and in markets like the one near San Salvador Huixcolotla. The price is around seven pesos (37 cents) a litre, less than half what it costs in petrol stations.
This enterprise is the most important new form of organised crime in Mexico, says Eduardo Guerrero, a security consultant. Though it does not match drug-trafficking for violence and cashflow, it is growing fast and unsettling investors in energy, one of the country’s most important industries. In 2006 the pipeline network operated by Pemex, the national oil company, had 213 illegal taps. Last year that number jumped to more than 6,800. The thefts cost the company 30bn pesos in lost sales and repair bills last year.