The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has detected 4,800 separate cases of power theft at the largest public market in Oaxaca.
The illegal connections at the Central de Abasto market in Oaxaca city cost the public utility around 5 million pesos (US $265,000) a month, the CFE said.
It also warned of the possibility of explosions as a result of “serious overload risks” at the hidden connection points, representing a potential danger to the public.
Heliodoro Díaz Escárraga, chief of the Oaxaca Civil Protection services, also said there was a high risk of a fatal explosion or fire at the market, which is the workplace for 16,000 vendors and patronized by 20,000 shoppers on a daily basis.
He said authorities are currently planning an operation to disconnect all the illegal hook-ups, which are known colloquially in Mexico as diablitos (little devils). Rewiring the whole market will cost 70 million pesos (US $3.7 million), Díaz estimated.
“. . . The [power] supply has to be returned to normal and everyone has to be obliged to pay for the use of energy . . . We have to avoid a tragedy because the way that all the cables and diablitos are [at the moment], it’s a time bomb,” he said.
The official explained that 200 illegal connections in the historic center of Oaxaca that were used both by bricks-and-mortar establishments and street vendors’ stalls have already been disconnected.
Those diablitos were costing the CFE around 1.5 million pesos (US $79,500) a month.
Esther Merino, a member of a Oaxaca city business association, said that street vendors are the main electricity thieves and that the crime has increased since the new municipal government took office at the start of this year.
The CFE announced last month that electricity theft cost the company 30 billion pesos (US $1.6 billion) last year.
Director Manuel Bartlett Díaz explained that large and small business, hotels and industry were all guilty of stealing power, declaring that “this is a situation we must now fight against.”