Mexican drug cartels now targeting refineries
The first call, from someone claiming to belong to the Michoacán Family drug cartel, came in February 2015.As US companies enter the Mexican market for selling gas they will have to be wary of the narco-terrorist too. It is a risk factor in doing business in Mexico. It is another indication that Mexico is becoming a borderline failed state that can't protect its people from a criminal insurgency.
“They said they knew who I was and where I lived,” said Alberto Arredondo, who got the call at work as a pump technician at an oil refinery in the central Mexican city of Salamanca. “They wanted information.”
At first, Arredondo hung up.
“But they were insistent,” he said, calling back and demanding details of when fuels would be pumped and through which pipelines.
Over the next two years, Arredondo said, he would be hounded, kidnapped, pistol-whipped and stabbed so severely that surgeons removed his gall bladder. In December 2016, he fled to Canada, where he now seeks asylum from gangs that steal fuel from Salamanca and five other refineries operated by Pemex, the state-owned oil company.
Fuel theft is fast becoming one of Mexico’s most pressing economic and security dilemmas, sapping more than $1 billion in annual revenue from state coffers, terrorizing workers and deterring private investment in aging refineries that the government, following a 2014 energy reform, hoped instead would be thriving with foreign capital.
Because of government offensives that toppled narco kingpins in recent years, Mexico's drug cartels have splintered and are eager for new sources of revenue. Now, their increasingly dominant role as fuel thieves pits two of the country’s biggest industries - narcotics and oil - against one another.
The cash-rich cartels, believed by the Mexican government to generate well over $21 billion each year, are an increasing threat to Pemex, which in 2016 reported revenue of about $52 billion and generates about a fifth of government income.
“The business is more profitable than drug trafficking because it implies less risk,” said Georgina Trujillo, a ruling party congresswoman who heads the lower house energy commission. “You don’t have to risk crossing the border to look for a market,” she added. “We all consume gasoline. We don't all consume drugs.”