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article image'Don't panic,' Mexico president says as fuel shortages spiral

By AFP     Jan 9, 2019 in World

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged Mexicans Wednesday not to panic as gasoline shortages caused by his crack-down on fuel theft spread across the country.

The leftist president says the shortages were caused by his administration's decision to temporarily close state oil company Pemex's pipelines -- part of his bid to wipe out rampant fuel theft that cost the country an estimated $3 billion last year.

But for a politician who campaigned on his energy nationalism and a promise of more Mexican refineries to produce more cheap gasoline, the shortages have turned into a public-relations debacle.

At his daily press conference, Lopez Obrador, who took office last month, vowed to keep up his fight against fuel theft and urged Mexicans not to make the shortages worse with panic buying.

"We're going to resist the pressure. I'm asking people to help us. How can you help us? By acting prudently and calmly, without panicking, without listening to alarmist and biased information," he said.

"There is enough gasoline in the country ... We are in the process of returning to normal deliveries."

Fuel-theft gangs linked to Mexico's powerful drug cartels have turned illegal taps of Pemex's oil and gas pipelines into a massive black-market industry.

There were 10,363 pipeline thefts last year, up from 186 in 2012, according to Pemex.

Authorities indicate the crime is partly an inside job. Lopez Obrador confirmed Tuesday that Pemex's former security chief is among those under investigation.

To crack down on fuel theft -- known in Mexico as "huachicol," or moonshining -- the government has ordered Pemex to close its pipelines and instead ship fuel in tanker trucks, which takes longer.

It has also deployed the military to escort fuel shipments and guard Pemex production facilities, inspecting workers as they enter and exit.

The strategy has led to shortages and long lines in various places around Mexico, particularly in the center of the country, as service stations run out of fuel or limit customers to purchases of 10 liters (about two and a half gallons).

Mexico City is among those affected, though officials insist the fuel supply to the capital is normal and the shortages are being caused by panic buying.

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