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Popular target among thieves. Popular target among thieves.

Danger for truckers due to steadily increasing highway robbery

More are traveling in convoys or with an armed security detail

Truckers on Mexico’s highways travel in fear due to an alarmingly high number of robberies, according to a report published today by the news agency Reuters.

There were 2,944 reported truck robberies in 2017, almost double the 1,587 cases that occurred in 2016.

A study by United States-based security firm Sensitech showed that on the country’s most dangerous highways — such as the ones linking Mexico City to major ports on the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coasts — it is almost certain that one in two truckers will be held up.

A 50-year-old driver identified only as El Flaco told Reuters that Mexico’s “roads are getting more and more dangerous,” adding that “you try not to stop.”

Two years ago, criminals posing as police officers kidnapped not only him but also his security detail on an unspecified highway.

After he was abducted, El Flaco was beaten, blindfolded and taken to a house near Mexico City where his kidnappers threatened to kill him.

After three days, he managed to escape but remains haunted by the memory of the ordeal and now travels with a machete and a satellite tracking device in his truck’s cab that can pinpoint his location in emergencies.

Speaking from Puebla — described by Reuters as the “epicenter of highway freight theft” — El Flaco said that he pays closer attention to the details of surrounding traffic than he did previously and that he is always on the lookout for any signs of danger.

“Since I was kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking in the mirror, checking car number plates, looking at who’s gone past me,” he said. “I look at everything.”

To reduce the risk of robberies, truckers often travel together in convoys, while some are accompanied by an armed security detail that travels in a separate vehicle.

The number of trucks with cabs armored against high-caliber weapons grew by 40% last year, but at 53 it remains a minute fraction of the almost 11 million trucks that crisscross the nation’s 32 states.

Other drivers remove the logos from their trucks to avoid being targeted due to the type of cargo they are transporting.

Fuel, food and beverages, building materials, chemicals, electronic goods, auto parts and clothing are among criminals’ top targets, Sensitech said.

Some companies, including brewer Grupo Modelo AB InBev and the Mexican subsidiary of the South Korean company LG Electronics, have bolstered security measures to protect their drivers by using sophisticated geo-location technology and increasing their liaison with authorities.

However, criminals have also become more sophisticated and sometimes use devices that block global positioning systems, preventing trucks from communicating their location.

Although there are no official statistics on the monetary value of losses incurred due to truck robberies, the Mexican insurance association AMIS said that insurers paid out almost US $100 million in 2016 to companies whose trucks had been targeted.

According to industry estimates, the contents of only one in three trucks is insured, meaning that the real extent of annual losses could be triple the figures cited by insurers.

The trucks themselves are also increasingly targeted by thieves, meaning that fewer and fewer are recovered after their drivers are subjected to attacks.

“It’s not just the goods they want, it’s the trucks too,” said AMIS official Carlos Jiménez.

In addition to highway robbery, train robbery is also a growing problem in Mexico, with the crime’s incidence soaring by 476% between the first and last quarters of 2017.

Given that over 80% of goods are transported by road and rail in Mexico, the extent to which theft is hurting the economy’s competitiveness cannot be underestimated, especially considering that Mexico is seeking to diversify its trade in the face of continuing uncertainty surrounding NAFTA.

After President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, he pledged to reduce violence and lawlessness but after making some progress, the security situation began to worsen.

Last year was Mexico’s most violent in at least two decades, with over 29,000 homicides, and the three months with the highest homicide rates in the same period were all in the last seven months.

Fuel theft from Mexico’s state-owned pipelines has also continued to grow to such an extent that Pemex CEO Carlos Treviño said last month that it costs the company 30 billion pesos a year (US $1.5 billion at today’s exchange rate).

While highway robberies of trucks dropped in 2014 compared to the previous year, the crime has increased every year since.

In response, the government has bolstered the police presence in affected areas and increased prison sentences for freight robbery to 15 years.

Yet robberies continue to rise and, according to Sensitech, most are not even reported due to the onerous bureaucratic processes involved.

Source: Reuters (en)

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