A criminal organization that is allegedly in cahoots with municipal police and authorities is stealing one million liters of propane gas a month in Texcoco, México state, before selling it at inflated prices.
According to a report in the newspaper Milenio, gang members known as halcones (hawks or lookouts) alert their fellow criminals to the location of tanker trucks carrying gas in the municipality just east of Mexico City.
The huachigaseros, or gas thieves, then catch up to a truck in their own vehicles, surround it to prevent any attempt at escape, force the driver out at gunpoint and steal the tanker with its valuable load.
A gas truck driver identified only as Carlos recounted a terrifying early morning robbery experience to Milenio.
“I was supplying [gas] at five in the morning and all of a sudden I heard that stones were being thrown at the truck. I stopped and some armed guys came up and . . . took everything we had: telephones, money . . . and the gas,” he said.
Carlos said municipal police attended the scene of the robbery but told him and his co-worker that there was nothing they could do.
“With their arms crossed, they told us: ‘You know what? We can’t do anything. If you know that you can’t come this way, what are you doing here?’” he said.
Another driver, Antonio, said that gas thieves hijacked his truck and beat him and his co-worker.
“They pointed a gun at my head and hit my colleague with a pipe. The aggressors said to us: ‘You know what? Speak with who you have to speak to. You have to leave here . . . If you don’t . . .we’ll kill you and burn the tanker truck,” he said.
Antonio said municipal police arrived while a gun was still pointed at his head and that an officer asked the gas thief “’what’s happening, brother, how are you?’”
The truck driver said the police officer told the gas thieves to “get them [him and his colleague] out of here,” adding: “’we’ve agreed that they shouldn’t be here . . . The boss is going to be angry.’”
Gas companies that operate in Texcoco estimate that they are losing a million liters of gas a month to the huachigaseros. Some companies have decided to cease their operations in the municipality altogether due to the risk of theft.
A joint Federal Police/Attorney General’s Office operation in September captured six members of a propane gas theft ring and seized 42 tank trucks and 222,000 liters of gas at three properties in Texcoco and Ecatepec. But it failed to put an end to gas theft in the former.
A lawyer for the gas company for which Antonio works told Milenio that evidence indicates that Texcoco police and authorities are profiting from gas theft.
“We believe there is complicity because we ask for support from the municipal police but the commissioner responsible told us that they couldn’t help us, that they didn’t have the authority . . .” the unidentified lawyer said.
“We went to the city hall and we got the same results; they refused [to help us]. It is said that Texcoco officials and politicians participate in this illegal gas market,” the lawyer added.
Texcoco business owners who depend on gas for their day to day operations say they have received threats after buying gas from legal companies rather than criminals.
“They threatened us [by saying that] if we contracted the service again, they would go after the business and do harm to my family and I,” said Rogelio, who purchased up to 1,000 liters of gas a week.
“I called another company and they refused to sell to me because . . . they don’t come into Texcoco out of fear. Due to the lack of gas, I had to close the business that my father started many years ago and which several families depend on,” he added.
According to Milenio, business owners in Texcoco are not only forced to buy gas from criminals but also pay up to 30% more, even though the liters they purchase are incomplete.
Source: Milenio (sp)