The Mexican government continues with its conflict against drug trafficking groups. Throughout the last decade, this conflict has become more problematic with these criminal syndicates modifying their operations to respond to the political and economic environment of the nation. During this period, the Mexican authorities have been combating individuals responsible for the illegal extraction of gasoline. The drug trafficking groups are solidifying their economic stability by consolidating their domination over the extraction and selling of gasoline.
The illegal extraction of refined petroleum has a long history in Mexico. Throughout the years, this activity represented a source of cheap gasoline for individuals and small businesses. This black market was dominated by regional groups that remined disconnected to the traditional drug trafficking associations. These offences represented a minor problem for the Mexican authorities due to their regional nature. However, the drilling of gasoline became more lucrative after the national oil prices increased. At the same time, the individuals responsible for coordinating these extractions formed their own armed groups and become known as “Huachicoleros.” In some cases, these groups became linked with drug cartels to secure their occupation. However, in most cases, the drug cartels perceived these groups as obstacles to obtain control over an extremely lucrative operation.
The magnitude of this problem can be appreciated with a recent event. On April 15, 2018, the community of Culiacancito experienced a blockade of streets by members of the Sinaloa Cartel. According to local authorities, ten vehicles participated in this event with the objective of kidnapping 12 individuals involved in the illegal extraction of gasoline from a local pipeline. In subsequent days, the Sinaloa Cartel organized similar operations in multiple communities around the state.
There are conflicting interpretations about this event. According to state authorities, this incident represents another episode of the internal fighting taking place inside the Sinaloa Cartel between the sons of Joaquin Guzman Loera “El Chapo” (also known as Los Chapitos) and their uncle Aurelino Guzman “El Guano.” In this internal struggle, the domination over the extraction of gasoline represents a crucial element to consolidate control over the organization. On the other hand, there are observers that interpreted this event as part of a massive operation coordinated by Los Chapitos to eliminate the local huachicoleros and exploit this illegal business. This argument demonstrates that the Sinaloa Cartel is expanding its operations to decrease its dependency on the production and trafficking of illegal drugs.
The consolidation of drug cartels over the extraction of gasoline represents a complex challenge for the Mexican government. To respond to this problem, the national authorities need to interpret this activity as part of their fighting against drug trafficking groups. In part because these drug cartels are consolidating their control over this illegal business. Ultimately, this development decreases the effectiveness of anti-narcotics operations because these organizations are securing another source of income.