Sunday, January 6, 2019

Gas shortages in Mexico fuel dozens of theories

2019 greeted us with a shortage of gasoline, resulting in four- and five-block-long lines at the few stations still operating, and conflicting explanations from newly-elected Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, various newspapers and my dentist Dr. Jesús Herrera. 

A couple of consumers I spoke with, standing stoically in line for an hour or more to fill two or three plastic containers, just rolled their eyes and said "who the hell knows" and "the government screwed up." 


Get in line and we'll be with you whenever.
If the yellow-jacketed protesters in Paris recently screamed, fought with the police and set things on fire over rising fuel prices, here the citoyens just wait quietly in their cars and motorcycles, or stand in line, seemingly unperturbed by the week-long shortages of fuel, and the lack of a logical explanation for the contretemps. 

Instead, if there's anything Mexicans have mastered is waiting in line for everything, at the phone or cable company, government offices, banks and now gas stations. At one BP station on the way out of town, there were even a couple of police vehicles patiently waiting in line, along with everyone else. 

Shortly after taking office, López Obrador vowed to combat theft of fuel from government pipelines, admittedly an enormous problem in Mexico

It's not just a matter of individuals ripping off a few gallons of gas to make a few pesos on the side, but the work of organized gangs, some connected with the drug cartels, sometimes in cahoots with employees of the government-owned oil company Pemex—or any or all of the above. Last year Pemex lost an estimated US$3.4 billion-worth of gasoline to fuel thieves, known as huachicoleros

What, me worry?
My dentist, Dr. Herrera, while drilling one of my molars three weeks ago, put most of the blame on Pemex employees. "The bandits who tap pipelines don't drill using small power drills from Home Depot," he said angrily. "These are inside jobs tolerated by Pemex and the government." My dentist also doesn't have any use for López Obrador or anything he does or might do. 

You may rinse now. 

According to some newspapers, López Obrador's plan, announced on Dec. 27, to combat fuel theft by moving the gasoline by over-the-road tanker trucks— thus bypassing some of the most affected pipelines—has backfired by creating "logistical problems in the delivery system." 

I'd say. A few weeks ago, Stew and I witnessed a caravan of perhaps a dozen Pemex tanker trucks, lumbering through the nearby town of Celaya, guarded by at least half as many army vehicles with heavily armed personnel. It was an impressive show of force and security, but it didn't look like a particularly efficient way to move fuel from the refineries to the gas stations. 

The López Obrador-friendly newspaper La Jornada cited such "logistical problems" for the snafu at the gas stations in nine states, including our own Guanajuato. The government insists the issues are not lack of fuel, or escasez, or price fixing or speculation, but delivery problems, or desabastecimiento. Ah, so.

The plan by Stew and me to drive to San Antonio tomorrow morning thus has been complicated a bit, by potential gasoline shortages along the way. We might take a five-gallon gasoline container just in case. 

Then there are reported delays of up to 12 hours at the Laredo border crossings, caused by the closure of some U.S. government operations, as President Trump insists on spending $5.6 billion on The Wall along the border with Mexico, supposedly to prevent terrorists, narco-traffickers, murderers, jaywalkers, rapists and hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of other brown-skinned ne'er-do-wells from getting across. 

It should be a challenging drive, now complicated immensely by governments on both sides of the border led by idiots. 

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