Elements underscoring Cartel involvement in Pemex pipeline blast



The explosion of a Pemex-owned pipeline near the city of San Martin Texmelucan, located in the central Puebla State, highlights yet another worrisome evolution in Mexico’s ongoing drug war. Several independent sources, ranging from police officials, to regional Pemex (Petróleos Mexicanos) employees and local press, indicate the “Los Zetas” Cartel as the prime suspect in the blast, which claimed at least 29 lives and injured dozens others. Despite these claims, Pemex declared earlier this week that three months are needed to provide detailed information on the catastrophe.

Although the explosion – reported in the pumping station in San Martin Texmelucan - was probably an unintended result of oil bunkering, it proves that the cartels are expanding their operations outside of the drug trade. According to Pemex statistics, 614 cases of oil theft have been reported this year, which is equals an increase of nearly 300 percent since 2005.

Earlier this year, the “Zetas” have established strongholds in the Puebla State and more specifically in the cities of Xicotepec de Juárez, Huachinango and Tehuacán, as well as along the border with the Veracruz state. Given the fact that the “Los Zetas” Cartel mainly consists of army deserters and new recruits who have received military training in boot camps across Mexico or Guatemala, they are better equipped than the local and federal police and even outgun the armed forces. This is one of the reasons why the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel managed to break free and establish a drug trafficking empire of their own. They are renowned for their guerrilla-type hit-and-run tactics and their brutal killings and beheadings.

As they are fighting to take their place among the largest seven drug cartels in Mexico, the “Zetas” are seeking to expand their business in an already saturated drug trade. Besides being active in bunkering oil, the cartel is also known for siphoning gas from Pemex installations in the Burgos Basin, which boasts the country’s biggest natural-gas fields and stretches across the northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. Last July, a cell of five “Los Zetas” members dedicated to oil bunkering from the Pemex-pipelines in the municipality of Cosamaloapan, Veracruz State, was dismantled. Additionally, the cartel is said to be responsible for over 90 percent of the abductions of Pemex personnel, an estimated 30 this year. The state-owned company is thus a prime target for the cartel and similar incidents offer a grim prospect for Mexico’s economy, as it likely will deter future investors.

Other cartels are following a similar path towards new revenues. For instance, the La Familia Michoacana Cartel, which broke loose from the Gulf Cartel in 2006, is implicated in illegal mining activities in its home state and most of the cartels are running human trafficking networks that transport illegal immigrants from Central America towards the United States or Canada.

The diversified operations of a drug cartel also add to the difficulty the government has in curtailing the criminal organisations, which is also impeded by the high level of impunity and the deep-rooted corruption. Indeed, as the cartels seek to impose their rule of law on their turf, they either seek collaboration from the local officials or eliminate them.

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