Thursday 21 June 2018

Fuel theft is the big issue in Puebla

La politica es la politica has posted 32 articles - one for each state in Mexico, including Mexico City - in advance of the July 1, 2018, presidential election. For links to all 32 articles, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The state of Puebla is located in central-east Mexico, with a total population of about 6.2 million. Its capital city, also called Puebla, is a beautiful colonial town only 100 kilometers southeast of Mexico City.

Politically, the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN) is strong in Puebla. The governor is a member of the PAN, as is one federal senator. The other two federal senators are members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is also the party of the sitting president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Puebla is one of the eight states that is electing a new governor. There are five candidates: Alejandro Romero Carreto for New Alliance (Nueva Alianza); Enrique Doger Guerrero for the PRI; Luis Miguel Barbosa Huerta for the Morena-led coalition “Together We make History”; Michel Chaín Carrillo for the Green Party (PVEM); and Martha Erika Alonso Hidalgo for the “Frente” coalition, which includes the PAN teaming up with an unlikely partner, the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), as well as Citizens Movement and two smaller parties.

How does all this break down?

The Green Party candidate, Michel Chaín Carrillo, doesn’t stand a chance – polls have him in the single digits. As has been noted in other blog posts in this series, the Green Party (PVEM) in Mexico is one of the most cynical political organizations in any modern democracy. It has very little to do with the environment, and instead runs on crude populist policies such as expanded food banks and capital punishment for kidnappers. The Green Party is a creation of the PRI, and is used by the PRI to peel off undecided voters from its opponents.

PAN candidate Martha Erika Alonso Hidalgo should be a long shot due to the weakness of her campaign, but she is polling in second place at 29.6% – and she has been as high as 36.4%.  She is the wife of former PAN governor Rafael Moreno Valle Rosas (2011-2017), and she is running as PAN candidate in alliance with the left-of-center PRD. The PRD, in freefall after its leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) left to form Morena, then made the desperate and illogical alliance with its ideological opposite and political rival, the PAN.
The most recent polling for governor of Puebla

According to the polls, the New Alliance candidate, Alejandro Romero Carreto, is lingering with single digit support.

The PRI candidate, Enrique Doger Guerrero, is polling at 14.3%, and has been trending down slightly throughout the campaign.

That leaves us with Luis Miguel Barbosa Huerta and the Morena-led coalition “Together We make History”. Barbosa Huerta is in the lead at 36.8%. It should be noted that this is a significant jump from recent polls that had him at 31.7%, behind the PAN’s Martha Erika Alonso Hidalgo, who was then polling at 34.3%.

The big issue in this election campaign is delinquency related to fuel theft. This may seem odd to non-Mexican readers, but fuel theft has become big business in this part of Mexico, with gangs known as huachicoleros benefitting from corruption at the state-owned oil company, Pemex, poor infrastructure – which makes it easy to tap lines – and of course the bottomless capacity for complicity on the part of local security forces.

At the end of May Liliana Hernández Carlos, a suspected leader of a gang of pipeline thieves, drug dealers and murderers, was captured in Puebla. State authorities said she controlled retail drug sales in the southern part of the city of Puebla. Hernández, who has been linked to multiple murders, including of a 12-year-old girl, also filled a power vacuum in the municipality of Santa María Xonacatepec after the death of Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) member Jesús Martín “Kalimba” Mirón López in October last year. Mirón was killed in an internal CJNG quarrel. At the time of his death he was recovering from surgery to alter his face and remove his fingerprints.

On May 17 of this year the huachicolero Ángel Villegas, known as El Pelón, was arrested in San Martín Texmelucan, Puebla. At the time his pet tiger was also taken into protective care. El Pelón is believed to head a gang called Las Villegas with ties to the CJNG. Earlier in the month, also in San Martín Texmelucan, state police raided municipal police headquarters and took 185 officers into custody. Ultimately 119 officers — including the chief — were charged with various crimes. But to call these individual “officers” is an overstatement: most had not been assigned an official identification code nor had they passed or even taken evaluation tests. As well, at least four of the “real” cops were charging the fake officers up to 5,000 pesos (about US $260) to keep their jobs.

It should be noted that last year San Martín Texmelucan Mayor Rafael Núñez Ramírez wrote 60 official letters to the president and other politicians and government agencies. His effort was broad and insistent: he wrote to the president of a Congress public security committee, the Federal Police general commissioner, the president of the Senate, the CEO of Pemex and several state and federal politicians, among others. In great detail he outlined the specific security challenges in his town, and how criminal gangs were gaining influence in the police and elsewhere — mostly in the context of fuel theft. Nothing was done, even as the community spiraled into violence.

As the apathy on the part of authorities continued, homicides spiked again in the first quarter of 2018. Núñez then wrote to the state public security secretary on April 9, reminding him of previous security agreements. Nothing was done until the recent arrest of the officers.

The situation is made worse, as in other parts of Mexico, due to the stresses being put on the press to self-censor.  From the late 19th century until the beginning of the drug war in December, 2006, four journalists were killed in Puebla. However, since 2006 three journalists have been murdered: in 2012, 2013, and 2016.

The level of apathy on the part of officialdom in Mexico can be astounding, but when they act, it can also backfire. Early in April specially-trained soldiers from an elite division of the army dedicated to combating pipeline theft were repeatedly attacked in the area around San Martín Texmelucan, also known as the Red Triangle. The soldiers went to San Martín Texmelucan to support Pemex employees dismantling illegal taps on fuel pipelines. After closing several perforations on the Minatitlán-Mexico City pipeline, they were attacked by gunmen in a pickup truck, and a gunfight ensued.

Two of the gunmen in the truck were left wounded by the side of the road 50 meters ahead of the altercation. When the military attempted to provide first aid, a group of local residents arrived and acted aggressively toward the soldiers, yelling “Burn them!” and “Take out the AK-47.” To avoid further conflict, the soldiers left.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Residents set up a roadblock, where again they confronted the soldiers and verbally abused them, claiming that the military had come to San Martín Texmelucan to “make war”. Soon rocks were thrown and soldiers pushed. One was pulled from his vehicle and kicked on the ground, with a member of the mob shouting “Burn the bastards, kill them already!”

This bizarre behavior may be due to confusion with regard to the locals and an “agreement” that they felt they’d made with some elements of the military and a corrupt Pemex official. It’s likely that the deal would have allowed locals to steal fuel and deliver kickbacks.

Corruption in Puebla is big business, and therefore a desperately serious matter. On June 16 two senior police officers in Amozoc, Puebla, were arrested in connection with the murder of six municipal police officers. The six murdered officers had made an official complaint before the municipal controller. They were allegedly lured by the senior officers to an ambush, whereupon they were kidnapped, tortured and executed.
After calling out corruption,, killed by two senior officers

Overall, the CJNG is winning the war against Los Zetas cartel for control over fuel theft in Puebla. CJNG now has a presence that surrounds the capital city of Puebla, and is in the process of taking control of the Red Triangle municipalities of Quecholac, Palmar de Bravo, Tepeaca, Tecamachalco, Acajete, Amozoc and Acatzingo.

With this level of instability it’s not surprising that there’s been some election violence in Puebla. On June 1 the Green Party (PVEM) candidate for the district of Huauchinango in the state Congress, and a municipal councillor from Juan Galindo, were attacked near Cacahuatlán, Zihuateutla. Candidate Juana Iraís Maldonado was riding in a vehicle with Erika Cázares when armed civilians opened fire, killing both.

On May 17 an independent candidate for mayor of Palmar de Bravo in the Red Triangle region was abducted from his vehicle as he was traveling between Tecamachalco and Cañada Morelos. Ángel Morales Ugalde had just dropped off his children school and was on his way to his campaign headquarters. The state’s interior secretary has reported that was kidnapped, with a ransom demand of 15 million pesos (~US$ 740,000). Morales Ugalde, who remains missing, is the brother of ex-mayor Pablo Morales Ugalde, who was arrested in June 2017 for alleged ties with fuel thieves.

Social activists are also not safe in Puebla. Manuel Gaspar Rodríguez, leader of the Popular Indigenous Movement for Workers and Peasants, was an opponent of open-pit mining, fracking, and the proposed electrical substation in Cuetzalan, Puebla. He worked toward the cancellation of the dump in Cohuatichan, in the municipality of Cuetzalan.  He had received death threats and was found murdered in a hotel room in Cuetzalan on May 14.

Is there any good news in Puebla? Well, production of the first electric cars made in Mexico by a 100% Mexican-owned company will began in April, after a new Zacua plant was officially opened in Puebla.

In April a major Mexican pork producer started a US $264-million project to build a slaughterhouse and five farms in Puebla, despite local protests.

And Puebla’s economy experienced the second highest growth of the all the Mexican states in 2017, accelerating by 6.84%.

But the real issue is insecurity, particularly in the context of fuel theft. The CJNG is now a strong presence in the state, and has cultivated mutually beneficial relations with local population, the police, politicians, and officials at Pemex.

With everyone on the take, it’s a tough nut to crack. Who can solve this? Given the support for the Morena candidate for governor, we can expect the people to bet on AMLO as their presidential candidate – he is the only politician to have consistently connected corruption with insecurity. Ricardo Anaya, the candidate for the PAN-PRD alliance, will maintain a respectable level of support. However, Antonio Meade of the PRI doesn’t have much traction in Puebla, and will likely not fare well.

Below are the links to the posts for each state: 

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