Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The new culture of Puebla’s gas thieves

Stealing gasoline from pipelines is such a common practice in a region of the state of Puebla that a culture has formed around it.

The thieves are known as huachicoleros and the “huachicolero culture” is now interwoven into the everyday lives of the people of the region.

The word stems from the local slang term huachicol, which refers to the adulterated gasoline used by truckers in the past. But why adulterate gas by adding less costly substances to it when you can simply tap into a pipeline and get the real thing?

In the year 2000 there were 15 pipeline taps reported in Puebla by the state oil company Pemex.

In 2016, that figure soared to 1,533, bringing violence with it as the thieves repelled and confronted security forces.

Some 24 municipalities in the state report fuel thefts, but most are in the Tepeaca, Acatzingo, Quecholac, Palmar de Bravo and Acajete municipalities, for which the region has been named the Red Triangle.

While police are supposedly attempting to stop the practice, at least one politician sees value in it.

Deputy Ignacio Mier Bañuelos, who represents an area within the triangle in the state Congress, has declared that huachicoleros create jobs and help their towns’ economic development.

“The same people that distribute [stolen fuel] are the ones solving the problems of their communities,” he told the news website CNN Expansión in an interview.

Vendors setting up shop to sell their wares at the side of a highway are not an uncommon sight throughout Mexico, but those who do so on the roadsides of the Red Triangle offer their own unique product: wooden toys that replicate the trucks used by the huachicoleros to transport gasoline.

On social networks, the offerings are more sophisticated: buyers can find remote-controlled, 800-peso (US $42) huachicolero trucks.

The huachicolero culture is now being compared to the narco-culture of the northern states, and just like drug traffickers have their own — albeit unofficial — saint in Jesús Malverde, the people of the Red Triangle have taken to dedicating altars to the Santo Niño Huachicolero, or the Holy Infant Huachicolero.

A modified version of the Holy Infant of Atocha, the “saint” holds gasoline drums and a hose in its hands instead of the canonical basket and staff.

Even people not directly involved in stealing fuel have altars, said Deputy Mier, “to keep the huachicoleros from harm.”

And just as the narcos have their narcocorridos, songs written about them, so do the pipeline thieves.

Tamara Alcántara, a local singer and songwriter, has become a celebrity in recent months, riding on the coattails of the huachicoleros.

Alcántara’s three musical hits (so far) — El Huachicolero, La Cumbia del Huachicol and La Gran Señora Huachicolera — have made her a recognized and sought-out face in Puebla, where she is hired for private parties and Catholic baptism ceremonies alike.

The singer does not believe she is glamorizing the huachicolero way of life. “Telling a joke never harmed anyone. I do not promote crime, I am a songwriter and I just found a way to earn attention,” she told CNN Expansión.

Source: CNN Expansión (sp)

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