MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s new president issued an emotional appeal to his countrymen to help battle against fuel thefts on Wednesday, as long lines spread to gas stations in Mexico City.
The multi-state fuel scarcity arose after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decided to close government pipelines riddled with illegal fuel taps drilled by thieves, and instead deliver gas and diesel by tanker trucks.
There aren’t enough tanker trucks, and lines have stretched for hours at gas stations in outlying states this week. But by Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, similar lines formed in the capital as nervous motorists sought to fill their tanks.
Taxi driver Raymundo Cabrera Diaz had waited for an hour at a downtown Mexico City gas station and was running on empty as he reached the pumps.
“I haven’t got anything, I made it here by a miracle,” Cabrera Diaz said, motioning at his gas gauge. “Fuel theft had to be fought, but this is affecting the general public, drivers, people getting to work.”
The fight against $3 billion per year in fuel thefts has become the first big domestic battle for the leftist president, who he took office on Dec. 1.
“We are asking the people to help us, to support us so we won’t be defeated by criminals,” said Lopez Obrador. “All together, we can win and end the fuel thefts.”
It could be a politically costly battle for Lopez Obrador, as motorists expressed frustration after having to line up for hours, in some cases, to fill their tanks. Some stations have imposed 2.5 to 5 gallon (10 to 20 liters) limits on purchases.
The problem spread to Mexico City after a pipeline leading to the city began to leak. Lopez Obrador said it was unclear whether that duct had been punctured intentionally, or whether it simply ruptured.