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Mexico Army Launches Crackdown on Oil Thieves

By: TeleSur

Pemex Reports Major ‘Gasolinazo’ Profits

Clashes resulting from alleged fuel smuggling in the state of Puebla in central Mexico claimed at least 10 lives, drawing protests by locals.

Mexican Army attacks on alleged fuel smugglers in the state of Puebla in central Mexico claimed at least 10 lives Wednesday night in ongoing confrontations between authorities and oil thieves. The violence occurred during a major government operation against organized crime groups siphoning fuel from pipelines belonging to state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. The pilfered oil is typically sold on the Mexican black market.

Television images Thursday showed locals blocking a nearby highway with burning tires and a semi truck in the wake of the government attacks. Local media report that protesters blamed the army for starting the incidents and said a number of minors were still missing. Residents swarmed the site of the attacks, accusing authorities of acting without regard for the people.

Thursday’s violence is the latest chapter in a swelling crisis for the Mexican government. State-run oil company Pemex says it is losing a record 27,000 barrels per day of gasoline and diesel as criminal gangs have become more involved in oil theft as a result of the economic measures taken by the government.

Pemex has been making its highest profits in years as a result of the drastic price rise resulting from a new pricing policy implemented by the government, a policy change known to the people of Mexico as the “gasolinazo.” On Wednesday, the company announced that while fuel sales have decreased by 3.8 percent, net income has increased by US$17.4 billion in the first quarter of the year, an increase of 54.9 percent over the same period in 2016.

As a result of the fuel rises, cash-strapped families tend to rely on cut-rate gasoline sold on roadsides.

Residents burn tires to block a highway during a protest against the army after an incident with suspected oil thieves in the community of El Palmarito, on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico, May 4, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Analysts claim that the smugglers typically work with drug trafficking gangs such as the Zetas, who have a large presence in the neighboring oil-producing state of Veracruz.

Four soldiers and six suspected smugglers died in Thursday’s clash, according to government officials, during a large-scale operation launched by the Mexican Army involving about a thousand soldiers backed by helicopters and truck-mounted weapons.

The troops had been called in to investigate a case of oil pipeline theft Wednesday near the village of Palmarito before they came under fire from the group, which allegedly used women and children as human shields, according to the statement.

The army also alleges that its casualties resulted from a decision not to endanger the lives of civilians, despite its heavy-handed moves.

A few hours later in the same location, armed men in five sport-utility vehicles sprayed fire upon a different group of soldiers, the statement said.

Two more troops died in the ensuing firefight and nine were wounded. Six suspected fuel thieves died in the ensuing battle while one was wounded. The army arrested at least 12 people, including two minors, according to government statements.

“These operations against illegal (pipeline) taps will not only continue, but will be more frequent,” said Jose Antonio Gali Fayad, governor of Puebla.

Nevertheless, the Mexican government’s ability to maintain the country’s frailed social fabric through military and policing measures alone remains questionable.

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