MEXICO CITY – President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador presented on Tuesday a plan to provide economic aid to communities along the routes of Mexico’s fuel pipelines to discourage residents from illegally tapping into the conduits.
“We are going to confront the unfortunate practice of ... collecting gasoline from ditches, from leaks and from clandestine outlets,” the president said at his morning press conference.
As a result of these measures, Lopez Obrador said he hopes that “there will be no (more) misfortunes,” as occurred last Friday in the central state of Hidalgo where a punctured gasoline pipeline exploded while hundreds of residents were illegally collecting gasoline, killing 93, as of the count on Tuesday.
The president will travel this week to several towns where the practice of stealing and selling state-owned gasoline – known as “huachicoleo” – is very common, as part of his plan to provide aid and halt the practice that creates huge losses for state-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and has resulted in the closure of pipelines by of the new administration.
The aid plan for the communities through which the pipelines run includes 91 municipalities.
The aid will be given with the aim of alleviating poverty and ending the need for people to tap the pipelines to get fuel, said the president.
These actions will benefit 1.68 million people and require an investment of 3.86 billion pesos ($187 million).
Theft of fuel from pipelines cost Mexico some $3.4 billion last year, the government says.
Since his Dec. 1 inauguration, Lopez Obrador has launched an all-out fight against this crime.
The president has deployed thousands of police and troops to bolster security at pipelines.
The administration also adopted a change in Pemex’s method for shipping gasoline and diesel from refineries to urban distribution centers, opting to transport more fuel via tanker trucks instead of pipelines.
The change has caused severe supply problems in at least 10 states and Mexico City, and led to the closing of service stations, panic purchases and attempts to sabotage pipelines.
Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that security forces will continue to battle fuel theft as the gangs persist in sabotaging pipelines.