Violent crime in Sinaloa is not the exclusive domain of drug cartels: gangs of fuel thieves known as huachicoleros have taken their fight into the northern state.
This year, state oil company Pemex has detected on average three new illegal taps on its pipelines per day in Sinaloa, which is now one of eight Mexican states where 80% of the crime is concentrated.
Last month, turf wars between rival gangs over the control of the illicit fuel market in the state triggered a wave of violence, mainly in state capital Culiacán and the town of Mocorito, located about 120 kilometers to the north.
The Topolobampo-Culiacán pipeline runs through both municipalities and, according to Pemex data, there were 252 illegal taps on the duct in the first three months of the year, almost double the number detected in the first quarter of 2017.
In Culiacán and Mocorito, state security authorities have reported gun battles and cars being set alight in connection with the crime and schools have been closed due to the fear generated by the feuding, between heavily-armed groups.
On April 15, 10 people were kidnapped in Culiacancito, located just outside the capital, and the following day a shootout in El Limón de los Ramos — also in the municipality of Culiacán — left an innocent passerby wounded.
Authorities subsequently seized a burned-out car with several bullet holes from the scene of the confrontation.
Two days later on April 18, another car was set alight at a home in the community of El Tamarindo, Culiacán, leading to an air and ground-based police operation and the suspension of classes in the area.
The same day, state Public Security Secretary Genaro Robles attributed the incident to fuel thieves.
In response to the rising levels of fuel theft, the state Public Security Secretariat has launched a joint operation with the army and navy.
It has also called on residents not to buy stolen fuel in order to discourage its sale and in turn reduce the prevalence of the crime.
Pemex CEO Carlos Treviño said last month that fuel theft costs the state oil company 30 billion pesos (US $1.5 billion) a year.
Source: Reforma (sp)