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Long lines and guarded fuel: Mexican gas crisis, explained

People are waiting in long, winding lines at gas stations in Mexico City. Thousands of troops have been deployed to protect pipelines across Mexico. The fuel is redirected to tankers that are accompanied by armed vehicles.

These are the signs of a growing crisis in Mexico, where the government's new efforts to combat fuel theft from pipelines have renounced short days in the capital and at least seven central states.

So how did the country come here?

Criminal gangs known as huachicoleros have long targeted the thousands of miles of pipeline passing through Mexico, often in rural areas, which transport gasoline from refineries to distribution points. They knock into a pipeline, siphon and sell it, or they work with corrupt insiders to steal the fuel.

The cheap, stolen fuel has created an alternative market in many rural communities, but it has also cost the government expensive. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said about $ 60 billion, or $ 3.14 billion in fuel, was stolen last year.

As part of the degradation started by Mr López Obrador, who hired in December, pipelines exposed to theft have closed and fuel has been delivered to guarded trucks, a slow and logistically complicated process.

Pemex, the state-run energy company, said that the new transport methods had caused delays in supplying gasoline to service stations. The long lines didn't say that because of fuel shortages.

"Pemex appeals to public support and understanding," the company said in a statement. "These operations will undoubtedly be translated into benefits for all Mexicans."

Mr. López Obrador said on Friday that 4000 military and police personnel had been deployed to secure strategically important parts of the pipeline, which spans about 375 miles and usually transports approximately 400,000 barrels of gas per day.

He did not say when fuel would resume flowing through the closed sections, but promised to continue with his efforts to clean the thefts. The thefts have resulted in some of the local authorities' "incompetence or satisfaction," he said.

"That's what we are struggling with," says López Obrador, "because corruption cannot be allowed." He also said there was enough fuel in the country: "It's just about distribution."

Despite the long lines at the pumps, Mr. López Obrador showed no sign of changing his attitude. He said the amount of stolen fuel had fallen sharply due to his tactics.

"I've told you before and I say it again: Let's see who gets tired first, so we'll stop the fuel theft," Mr López Obrador said.

Metropolitan Mexico City, with a population of over 20 million, has had short days. Petrol stations have been forced to shut down, companies that rely on fuel for transport have suffered and millions in losses have been reported.

While the president's strategy may have slowed theft in the short term, experts say the current strategy is unsustainable.

Asael Nuche, Risk Director of Ethics, a consultant studying the issue, said in a column published in El Heraldo de Mexico that government movements were costly and ultimately uncertain.

"There is no method for transporting more efficient and economical than the pipelines, therefore the only option for the federal government is to take back control of them," he wrote.

Entrepreneurs say the fuel crisis has already been harmful. Gustavo de Hoyos, leader of the Mexican employers' association, Coparmex, on Thursday news conference said a survey of 3,500 companies had found losses of over $ 60 million.

Currently, the drivers are turned off waiting, but the temperatures are burning. "This is not the way to do it," said Javier Cruz, a taxi driver who said he had spent three hours before reaching the pump. Who did he blame? Mr López Obrador.

Paulina Villegas contributed reporting from Tijuana, Mexico and Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City.

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