An apparent paradox has emerged in Guanajuato: petroleum pipeline theft has declined but high levels of violence continue to plague the state.
A total of 119 people were murdered in the Bajío region state in the first 11 days of 2021, including nine mourners at a wake in Celaya, an entire family including a baby at their home in the same city, five people at an apartment in León and a state legislator in Juventino Rosas.
Writing in the newspaper El Universal, security analyst Alejandro Hope said that with such a bloody start to the new year it is very probable that Guanajuato, for a fourth consecutive year, will record more homicides in 2021 than any other state.
Hope noted that the wave of violence in early January came two years after the federal government launched an offensive against fuel theft, which was the trigger for the murderous violence Guanajuato has seen in recent years according to most analyses.
Hope said the federal government’s version of events says the campaign against fuel theft was “tremendously successful” – the volume of fuel stolen is down 95% compared to the peak during the previous government, some of the main fuel theft organizations were dismantled and José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez, the former leader of the Guanajuato-based Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and probably Mexico’s best known huachicolero, or fuel thief, is behind bars.
Yet the violence in Guanajuato has not only failed to stop but continues in an upward spiral, the analyst said.
“There is less fuel theft (according to what they say) but more deaths,” he wrote. “What can explain that paradox?”
Hope offered two possible explanations. One possibility is that the paradox is not in fact a paradox because the fuel theft economy hasn’t contracted to the extent the government says it has.
There is some data to back up that claim, he said, pointing out that the number of illegal taps on pipelines in Guanajuato declined 52% in the first eight months of 2020 compared to the same period of the year before.
“That’s a substantial reduction, but not the virtual elimination of the business that the authorities have presented,” Hope wrote.
He contended that another possibility is that violence can survive the contraction of the illicit market that gave rise to it.
“An activity such as fuel theft requires men, weapons, vehicles, warehouses, safe houses and networks of complicity at various levels of government. Once in existence, that criminal infrastructure can be used for other crimes (kidnapping, extortion, robbery, drug trafficking, etc.) So, maybe there is less fuel theft than there was in the past but its legacy continues [and is] used for many other things that cause spirals of violence,” Hope wrote.
He said that if his second explanation was even “moderately correct, the implications would be significant.”
It would mean that attacking an illicit market, whether it be a drug market, fuel theft market or any other kind of illegal market, won’t necessarily have a pacifying effect, Hope said
Instead, violence in itself, not the business it arose from, would have to be targeted, he argued.
“That obliges [the authorities] to understand the hidden dynamics of violence and the influences that trigger … gunshots in a specific space and market. Said in another way, homicidal violence won’t ease up in Guanajuato while the explicit objective is not to reduce it,” Hope concluded.
For President López Obrador, “social decay” is a major factor in the high levels of violence in Guanajuato, where the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel have been engaged in a vicious turf war in recent years over control of fuel theft as well as drug trafficking and extortion, and many other smaller criminal gangs operate.
“We believe that there is profound social decay in Guanajuato that developed over years. Attention to the people [and] the wellbeing of the people was abandoned [by past governments] and that allowed the creation and development of groups dedicated to crime,” he said at his regular news conference on Thursday.
While the army and the National Guard are on the ground in Guanajuato, underlying problems that cause the violence must be eliminated, López Obrador said, citing collusion between authorities and criminals as one of them.
He also charged that past governments abandoned young people and effectively forced many of them into lives of crime. The president questioned why they didn’t make greater efforts to help young people get into jobs or continue their studies, as he claims his administration is doing via programs such as “Youths Building the Future,” an apprenticeship scheme.
“Why [didn’t they] assign young people to work or study? Don’t leave them to crime, don’t let them get roped in.”