A Mexican official on Monday confirmed a shocking video that emerged over the weekend of cartel gunmen forcing the drivers of about a dozen tanker trucks to dump their entire loads of gasoline into a field.
The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said the incident occurred last week in the border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, and was under investigation.
The official said the gunmen had apparently forced the truck drivers to line their parked vehicles up on a dirt road to dump their cargo.
Asked about the videos, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged “there is resistance from criminals” in the area, long known for cartel violence, adding that “We continue to confront them.”
In the video, a presumed member of the cartel can be heard mentioning the Gulf cartel faction known as The Scorpions, and saying all trucks carrying gasoline would suffer the same fate unless “they get in line,” or pay protection money to the gang.
In the video, open valves on the bottom of the tankers could be seen spewing gasoline like fire hoses, as armed men looked on.
“This is going to happen to all the grasshoppers,” a man’s voice can be heard saying, an apparent reference to Mexican gang slang that compares those who “jump” through a cartel’s territory to the hoppy insects.
Criminals in the border state of Tamaulipas have long drilled into state-owned pipelines to steal fuel, but now an even more complex situation is taking place.
Because of cross-border price differentials, it is sometimes profitable to import gasoline from Texas and sell it in Mexican border cities in Tamaulipas. López Obrador’s administration has long complained that many of the truckers mislabel their cargo to avoid import tariffs.
Others legally import U.S. gasoline, a practice the Mexican government dislikes because it reduces sales for the state-owned oil company.
“We are there to protect the citizens of Tamaulipas, so they don’t have to buy stolen or smuggled fuel,” López Obrador said Monday.
But the Gulf drug cartel apparently demands money from both legal importers and those who seek to avoid paying import duties.
One businessman who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals said the gang is demanding a payment of $500 per truck even to allow legally imported gasoline through the city of Matamoros, an important border crossing.
The businessman added that Tamaulipas authorities often provide escorts for tanker trucks precisely to prevent such attacks.
It was the latest instance of lawlessness in Matamoros, where in March four Americans were shot at and abducted by a drug gang. The Americans were found days later, two dead, one wounded and without physical injuries.
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