Expectations for a rapid end to the acute fuel shortage in Jalisco were dashed Wednesday after Jalisco Governor Enrique Alfaro came back from a meeting with the nation’s interior minister in Mexico City with disappointing news.
Alfaro was informed that there is no fixed date for the reopening of the gas pipeline linking the metropolitan area with the Pemex refinery in Salamanca. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s decision to close the vital pipeline on December 30 has been the major cause of the shortages in Jalisco, since there simply aren’t enough tanker trucks in the country to bring fuel in quickly enough to meet demand.
Despite having said a day earlier that the situation “can’t be normalized” without the reopening of the pipeline, Alfaro seemed satisfied that the federal government was doing everything in its power to resolve the situation.
Lopez Obrador says his plan to send the military in to Pemex installations, shut down pipelines – repeatedly tapped by thieves – and only distribute gas by road, is opening avenues for investigators to identify where massive gas theft is occurring and who is orchestrating it.
His offensive, however, has caused major problems throughout the central part of the country, with Jalisco, and Guadalajara in particular, most affected.
Despite assurances from federal sources that additional deliveries of fuel will alleviate the shortage – Lopez Obrador announced Monday that the federal government has purchased an additional 500 pipas (tanker trucks) to distribute gas throughout the country – the mood in Guadalajara was pessimistic.
The long lines at service stations remained much the same as last week – many still closed for days at a time – with some motorists reporting waits of up to five hours.
“In my opinion, it will be at least a month before things get back to normal,” said a gas station attendant at a closed BP station on the corner of Avenida Guadalupe and Rafael Sanzio. He said a line formed at the station in the early hours of Sunday after news of the imminent arrival of a pipa. Motorists began to fill up their tanks at around 3 a.m. By dawn on Sunday morning, the line stretched more than 15 blocks, for around a kilometer. The gasoline ran out before 11 a.m., with many motorists exasperated after spending hours waiting in line for nothing. “We don’t expect another delivery for three or four days,” said the attendant.
With only sketchy official information available on tanker delivery schedules, Jalisco car owners are using social media as their main means of identifying service stations where gas is on sale. But while motorists are provided with useful information via many bona fide Whatsapp groups, they are also frustrated by the slew of false information circulating on social media.
While the inconveniences provoked by the initiative to combat the fuel thieves is largely accepted by Guadalajara residents prepared to give Lopez Obrador a chance to settle a decades-old problem, the uncertainty at how long the situation will continue is making some citizens restless. A small demonstration of around 150 people gathered at the Minerva Glorieta Sunday to express their displeasure at the federal government’s handling of the issue and the scarcity of information.
As yet, fortunately, there have been few reports of altercations among drivers as they wait in line for hours to fill up their tanks. Motorists have generally been praised for their good behavior.
Lopez Obrador took office vowing to end decades of corruption in the highest circles of government, which deprived the nation of billions of pesos in revenue. While authorities were fully aware that officials and employees of the state-owned oil company Pemex were key players in organized huachicoleo (as fuel theft is commonly referred to in Mexico), few presidents in recent times had the courage to confront them. Most important of all, the new chief executive has stressed, is the need to shut down the illegal, “parallel” distribution of Pemex gas that involves a network of high-ranking officials, Pemex workers, drivers and service station concessionaires.
Despite assurances from Lopez Obrador that investigators are identifying the orchestrators of the theft and corruption, there is a growing restlessness that none of the perpetrators of these crimes – in particular employees and officials of Pemex – have been arrested.
Answering these misgivings, the federal government said this week that 32 people have been identified as suspects, although Lopez Obrador admitted that prosecuting them may prove difficult given the legal constraints.
In addition, federal authorities say, investigators have opened 1,700 case files on suspected huachicoleros and the bank accounts of 24 gas station owners (among hundreds suspected of buying stolen fuel) have been frozen, while 4.5 million barrels of gas have been “recuperated” in the first two weeks of 2019.
The effect of the gasoline shortage on the local economy has started to kick in, according to the Guadalajara branch of the National Chamber of Commerce (Canaco). Six out of every ten stores in the metropolitan area have reported a decrease in sales since the shortages began, said Canaco President Xavier Orendáin. Many business are also reporting higher rates of absenteeism and tardy arrival of staff, he added. The local restaurant chamber has also noted a significant drop in customers over the past two weeks. Attendance at schools and universities has also fallen, education authorities say.
The major supermarket chains have stressed that their distribution networks are operating normally, but Orendáin said 84 percent of Canaco members are reporting difficulties in the delivery of their products and merchandise.
Diesel fuel has been available, allowing public transport vehicles and most long-haul trailer firms to operate normally. However, rumors of an imminent diesel shortage are beginning to surface, with some confirmed reports in neighboring Guanajuato, said Juan Pablo Castañón, president of the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial.