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Mexican president tells motorists not to panic over gasoline shortage

Patrick J. McDonnell and Cecilia Sanchez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The government's insistence that there is no gasoline shortage -- just a short-term distribution issue -- has outraged many here.

"I passed by five gas stations today and all were closed," said Alfredo Flores Garcia, 47, a doctor who was also waiting for gas in Santa Catarina. "If there is no gasoline; there is a shortage. That is clear."

Officials said the problem stems from a decision to shut down some pipelines long tapped by gasoline thieves known as huachicoleros. Criminal networks -- many believed to be linked to drug cartels -- distribute the stolen gasoline to regional suppliers, who sell the discounted, black-market gas openly in many parts of Mexico.

While the closed pipelines are being evaluated for vulnerability to theft, more fuel is being transported by much slower tanker trucks, according to the government.

On Thursday, the president called on people living near major pipelines to alert authorities of any attempts to set up illegal taps. Thousands of troops have been deployed in the fuel theft crackdown.

"I am inviting all citizens ... to participate in the vigilance," Lopez Obrador said. "We are going to confront this scourge."

Pemex, the state oil company, lost about $3 billion to fuel theft last year, according to the government.

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Lopez Obrador, who said some Pemex employees and officials of the previous government were probably complicit, unveiled a plan last month to send about 4,000 soldiers and marines to guard petroleum facilities.

(Sanchez is a special correspondent.)

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