Huachicoleros on the rise in Mexico

Policeman inspects barrels containing stolen fuel Source: The Huffington Post Mexico

05/20/2017 (written by Laura Calderon) – A new form of organized crime has become a significant problem for Mexican authorities in over 22 states of Mexico: thefts of petroleum. Petroleum thieves are commonly known in Mexico as huachicoleros, a name adopted by gasoline truck drivers to refer to the stolen hydrocarbon, or chupaductos (pipeline suckers). Although petroleum stealing has been spreading throughout the country over the last few months, most of this activity takes place in an area called the Triángulo Rojo (Red Triangle) which encompasses the municipalities of Tepeaca, Palmar de Bravo, Quecholac, Acatzingo, Acajete and Tecamachalco, all in the state of Puebla. The Red Triangle has the most huachicolero activity because it is a transit zone for 40% of the fuel distributed from Mexico City to the rest of the country.

On average, huachicoleros are stealing 5.5 million liters of fuel nationwide. Huachicoleros are stealing petroleum in a variety of products: raw oil, gasoline, diesel, and other hydrocarbons found in major pipelines throughout Mexico and property of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Pipeline thefts became more popular as the gasoline supply in some areas decreased and prices drastically increased across the country. As a result, huachicoleros identified an opportunity to steal petroleum products and sell them in heavily transited highways for half the market price, costing PEMEX approximately 6 million pesos in losses from 2011 to 2016. Given these losses, foreign investments have become more difficult to attract to the Mexican government’s energy sector.

Social Impact

Groups of huachicoleros have managed to gain community approval and support in a variety of ways. First, they offer gasoline at significantly lower prices than official gasoline stations, benefiting from volume sales rather than pricing. Second, they take advantage of special holidays and events to give some of the stolen fuel and other goods to residents within strategic areas for fuel stealing and distribution in an effort to create stronger partnerships with the community. For example, every Mothers’ Day in San Salvador Huixcolotla (state of Puebla), huachicoleros give units of stolen gasoline and home appliances to residents in an effort to build rapport and ensure protection. Finally, local communities have adopted a new kind of huachicolero subculture reflected in a new character inspired by a Catholic saint “El Santo Niño Huachicolero,” to whom residents offer barrels of fuel as an offering and prayer for protection and abundance.

Violent altercations between huachicoleros and security forces

Huachicolero activities have not only had significant economic impact for PEMEX and local governments, but violent altercations have

Military officers seize stolen fuel from huachicoleros. Source: El Universal

ensued between huachicoleros and federal police and military forces in at least two different cities in Mexico.

On March 30th state and military forces and a group of huachicoleros were caught in an armed conflict in the city of Cuesta Blanca (state of Puebla). When officials were surveilling the zone and observed a group of huachicoleros with at least nine units full of stolen fuel, the huachicolero group began firing. The huachicolero group was identified to be part of the criminal gang headed by Roberto “El Bukanas”. Two people were wounded and arrested for being linked to the Bukanas gang, a gang presumed to be tied to the Zetas cartel.

Another shooting between military forces and huachicoleros occurred more recently on May 3rd in Palmarito Tochapan (state of Puebla). At least two military officers were killed and one wounded when they recognized several units of stolen fuel and were attacked by the huachicoleros who were reportedly shielding themselves behind women and children. However, this shooting is highly contested by the media and Mexican authorities due to security camera footage that captured the altercation. With the videos made public, there are now contesting narratives about the specific events during the shooting and number of casualties. As this event highlights, special attention must be paid to the extrajudicial execution of a presumed huachicolero by a military officer.

Government response

After the May 3rd attack, local, state, and federal authorities began to implement more strict surveillance operations in strategic areas, in an effort to deter huachicoleros from stealing more fuel. This increase in security measures has impacted the gasoline black market in two meaningful ways: First, given how much more difficult the extraction of petroleum has become for huachicoleros, the resale price of gasoline has increased 40% over the last couple of months. As a result, consumption of their gasoline has significantly decreased forcing huachicoleros to only provide their services for a limited number of days a week and to a privileged list of frequent consumers.

In addition, on April 28th the Mexican Congress approved a legislation reform that increases sentences for fuel stealing to up to 25 years in prison and fines up to 2 million pesos if found guilty. Congress approved this initiative with 321 votes in favor, 18 against, and 37 abstentions and is planned to become effective in September. However, the head of the Ministry of Treasure and Public Credit (Secretaría De Hacienda y Crédito Público), José Antonio Meade, recently appealed to Congress to expedite the reform’s effective date  given the gravity of the situation and to initiate further comprehensive reforms to address fuel stealing.

Huachicoleros have gained increased attention from the media after their recent confrontations with federal and military authorities. As they continue to challenge local and state measures, Congress will need to continue its search for more efficient measures to tackle the issue from its source in order to eliminate that practice and hopefully eradicate the violence generated by it.

 

Sources

“¿Quiénes son los huachicoleros?.” El Debate. 4 May 2017.

“Aprueban diputados aumentar penas por robo de combustible.” El Diario. 28 April 2017.

“Decomiso de combustible desata enfrentamiento en Cuesta Blanca.” El Sol de Puebla. 31 March 2017.

“El Bukanas, El Toñín y La Negra, los tres líderes huachicoleros de Puebla.” El Sol de Puebla. 15 May 2017.

“Mueren dos militares en enfrentamiento con huachicoleros en Palmarito Tochapan.” El Sol de Puebla. 3 May 2017.

“Perfil: el sanguinario capo del huachicol.” Diario Cambio. 13 March 2017.

Badillo, Jesús. “El Triángulo Rojo, mina de ‘oro negro’ de huachicoleros.” Milenio. 05 May 2017.

Flores, Leonor. “Pide Meade acelar reformas pendientes contra robo de gasolina.” El Universal. 16 May 2017.

Hernández, Gabriela. “Puebla: enfrentamiento con ‘huachicoleros’ deja dos integrantes de Los Bukanas detenidos.” Proceso. 30 March 2017.

Molina, Héctor and Torres Rubén. “En video, presunto choque con huachicoleros.” El Economista. 10 May 2017.

Pérez, Fernando and Xicoténcatl, Fabiola. “Huachicoleros aplican su ‘gasolinazo’; incautan 50mil litros en Tabasco.” Excelsior. 14 May 2017.

States advance in the implementation of oral trials

Oral trials in Mexico. Image: Impacto.mx

Oral trials in Mexico. Image: Impacto.mx

06/30/2015 (written by rkuckertz) – States advance in the implementation of oral trials. According to recently released data, most Mexican states keep progressing in the implementation of oral trials and their overall transition to the New  Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Oaxaca  in particular has advanced over the past several years in its implementation,  jumping between 2013 and 2014 from 13th to 8th on the national rankings  comparing the degree of implementation of NSJP.

 

Monitoring Implementation of Oral Trials in Mexico

The Center for Investigation of Development (Centro de Investigación para  el Desarrollo, CIDAC), an independent think tank that presents proposals to further the development of Mexico’s rule of law, recently released data on the 2014 year that demonstrate the state’s progress. CIDAC evaluates each of the thirty-two states on a 1,000-point scale, where 1,000 points represents full implementation and 530 points is the intermediate goal. On this scale, Oaxaca accumulated 387 points prior to 2015–a notable achievement for the southern state, placing it above states such as Durango, Sinaloa, Morelos, Chiapas, and Veracruz.

Various groups have been working to increase the accessibility of this information to the public. Among them, Justice Project (Proyecto Justicia) has published virtual, interactive maps and graphs based on CIDAC’s reports. These graphics illustrate the progress achieved by each state and federal institution. At first glance, Chihuahua, Baja California, and Guanajuato are the high achievers on CIDAC’s 1,000-point evaluation scale, each state rising above the standard 530-point mark. However, in light of the challenges that the NSJP has faced throughout its implementation process, small successes such as Oaxaca’s may also be regarded as achievements for the country’s juridical transition.

Implementation of judicial reforms

State ranking of conditions for the implementation of criminal justice reform. (Source: Proyecto Justicia)

The federal government publishes similar data on the country’s status in the transition process. Its website, overseen by the Mexican Technical Secretariat for Justice Sector Reform (Secretaría Técnica del Consejo de Coordinación para la Implementación del Sistema de Justicia Penal, SETEC), presents figures that describe state rankings and the number of resources allocated to each for the purpose of implementing NSJP. It also includes a list of municipalities in which the reform has been implemented. SETEC utilizes a separate methodology and stratification system from CIDAC that classifies the states into one of seven categories that range from “minimal” to “optimal” and describe the level of implementation of NSJP. Oaxaca sits in the “low” group, while Chihuahua, Baja California, and Guanajuato, the three states ranked highest by CIDAC, occupy the  “medium”, “low”, and “low” categories respectively.

A countdown to the national goal date of completion of the new system’s implementation flashes across the SETEC homepage—just less than a year ahead.

While several states began the implementation process as early as 2005, no state has surpassed the 700-point mark on CIDAC’s evaluation scale. In fact, most states lie between the 250 and 400-point range, according to graphs provided by Justice Project. As a result, the one-year deadline to complete the system’s transition presents a considerable challenge to Mexico’s federal, state, and municipal governments. Alfonso Pérez Daza, Counclimember  to the Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF), recently released a statement addressing these obstacles. In it, he stressed the importance of the public’s confidence in the new system as well as the long-term nature of the current justice project. Pérez Daza also stated that the federal government will be developing a permanent training system for all parties involved in justice proceedings in order to facilitate the transition to an oral, accusatorial justice system.

Trying to address this need of training, many organizations from Mexico and the United States have developed sustained efforts to help attorneys, judges, defenders, prosecutors, law students and professors to improve their oral advocacy skills. Justice in Mexico has been working to provide the such skills through the ongoing OASIS project, faculty, students, and staff from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) had the opportunity to participate in skill-building workshops over the past several months to learn the ins and outs of the new judicial system. This summer the second phase of OASIS will take participants from UNAM to Washington, D.C, Boston and San Diego to participate in advanced seminars regarding the oral, adversarial justice system, and to learn and compare the U.S. Legal System.

 

Sources:

“Recuperar confianza social, núcleo vital de reforma penal: Pérez Daza.” Terra. Jun. 10, 2015. http://noticias.terra.com/mundo/recuperar-confianza-social-nucleo-vital-de-reforma-penal-perez-daza,46f98ce310af9ab4a059e5f5f7bd078cegcpRCRD.html

“Oaxaca entre los primeros estados del ranking en implementación de Reforma Penal: CIDAC.” El Oriente. Jun. 8, 2015. http://www.eloriente.net/home/2015/06/08/oaxaca-entre-los-primeros-estados-del-ranking-en-implementacion-de-reforma-penal-cidac/

SETEC. Jun., 2015. http://setec.gob.mx/

“Nueva metodología para clasificación y estratificación de entidades federativas.” SETEC. Jun., 2015. http://setec.gob.mx/es/SETEC/Nueva_Metodologia_para_Clasificacion_y_Estratificacion_de_Entidades_Federativas

“Reporte de hallazgos 2014 sobre los avances de la implementación y operación de la reforma penal en México.” Proyecto Justicia, 2015. http://proyectojusticia.org/images/Articulos/ReportedeHallazgos2014.pdf