Lopez Obrador announced the plan on December 27, a few weeks after taking office, saying that such theft, known as 'huachicoleo,' costs the state more than US$3 billion every year.
On December 20, security officers began monitoring the state-owned fuel company’s pipelines. In January, AMLO closed them, opting instead to transport fuel by road in supervised tanker trucks.
Many city dwellers panicked and flocked to filling stations, where they were forced to wait for hours to fill their tanks - if there was any gasoline left at all.
On January 6, Lopez Obrador called for calm and said reserves were sufficient but fuel would take longer to reach the cities.
Energy Secretary Rocio Nahle said the government's strategy contained “mistakes” and lacked logistical planning.
Now, the states of Jalisco, Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Queretaro, the State of Mexico, Nuevo Leon, Puebla, Michoacan and Mexico City are all reporting fuel shortages.
On Twitter, former President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) posted a video showing a long line of cars at Morelia, Michoacan, waiting to reach the pump and criticizing Lopez Obrador.
“The government must humbly recognize that its strategy is not working. The only ones suffering here are the people, the working people, not the huachicoleros,” he wrote.
Answering criticism, Lopez Obrador said the problem had affected several administrations, but previous presidents failed to address the issue, including Calderon.
According to state-owned Mexican Petroleum’s (PEMEX) own figures, the federal government spent about US$268 million combating huachicoleo between 2013 and 2018. At the same time, they lost US$6.3 billion because of huachicoleo.
Under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto, PEMEX detected 43,024 illegal oil valves in pipelines, allowing organized crime to steal fuel and sell it on the black market.
According to Lopez Obrador, the same institution in charge of stopping illegal syphoning, the Subdirection of Strategic Safeguard (SSE), was involved in the trafficking. Its director, General Eduardo Leon Trauwitz, is currently under investigation for collaborating with the stealing of fuel from the Pemex Tower.
Lopez Obrador says corruption within PEMEX was essential for huachicoleo, as authorities were aware of the theft and the institution’s budget includes an estimate for the yearly “missing” income due to “leaks” of oil.
Since the plan was implemented at the end of 2018, it has prevented the stealing of 128 million liters of fuel, according to the president.
The Union of Petroleum Workers of the Mexican Republic (STPRM) and its controversial leader Carlos Romero Deschamps made public their support for Lopez Obrador's strategy “to end corruption and promote a new model of efficiency, transparency and honesty in the production, supply and distribution of fuel.”
Fuel will continue to be transported by tanker, a relatively slow method, while authorities keep watch over the pipelines for illegal valves.