Fuel theft crisis is over, Mexican president says


President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on April 23, 2019. EPA-EFE/Jose Mendez (Cortesía)

MEXICO CITY.- President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that the crisis over fuel theft from pipelines belonging to state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) was over.

«This was an issue that appeared very hard to resolve, but we were able to deal with it,» Lopez Obrador said during his daily press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador, the founder and leader of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena), said the offensive against fuel theft launched in January had saved the government 12 billion pesos (about $640 million).

The president, popularly known as AMLO, thanked the army and Federal Police for their efforts in protecting Pemex’s fuel pipelines.

When the president took office on Dec. 1, he launched a fight against fuel theft, a crime that has plagued Pemex for years and generated losses of 65 billion pesos ($3.4 billion) in 2018 alone.

AMLO said the conservative opposition was behind «a campaign» to make the administration’s policies fail, but he said no one would be able to prevent the «fourth transformation,» the name he has given a set of initiatives aimed at bringing change to Mexico.

Pemex CEO Octavio Romero Oropeza, for his part, said that when the administration took office in December, some 74,000 barrels per day (bpd) of fuel were being stolen.

Thanks to the strategy implemented to fight fuel theft, only 18,000 bpd of fuel were stolen in January, with the figure dropping to 9,000 bpd in February, 8,000 bpd in March and just 4,000 bpd so far in April.

Pemex has also managed to «stabilize (oil) production,» which declined throughout 2018, at between 1.7 million bpd and 1.6 million bpd, Romero Oropeza said.

Demand for fuel is now being met across Mexico, the Pemex chief said.

After taking office, AMLO deployed troops to guard Pemex pipelines, preventing thieves from illegally tapping them.

The president also changed the way Pemex delivers fuel to service stations, shutting down pipelines and delivering fuel using tanker trucks.

The change in delivery methods led to fuel shortages in many states and caused panic buying by motorists.

The security strategy, moreover, failed to prevent the explosion of a pipeline that had been illegally tapped on Jan. 18 in Tlalhulilpan, a town in the central state of Hidalgo.

At least 135 people trying to get their hands on fuel were killed in the blast, officials said.

Government Undersecretary Diana Alvarez said during her turn at the microphone that the Lopez Obrador administration would provide relatives of the victims of the Tlalhulilpan pipeline explosion with 15,000 pesos (about $790) to help cover funeral expenses and care for orphaned children.

The government plans to provide pensions for the elderly, scholarships for students and other assistance in poor communities where fuel theft is common as part of an effort to help families move away from selling stolen fuel to earn a living, Alvarez said.

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