Oil theft in Honduras has been a reliable source of income for gangs for years, but the recovery of 50,000 liters of stolen fuel in the city of Puerto Cortés may lead authorities to finally crack down on this pursuit.
The special operations unit of the Honduras Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation, following the seizure, valued at around $122,600.
Three years ago, a case had already been filed with Honduras’ Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, but it was never investigated. Now armed with new evidence, the special operations unit is renewing its attempts to curb a crime once thought to have been controlled by a few operators, but which has spiraled into lucrative revenue for gangs.
SEE ALSO: Oil Theft Coverage
Much of the oil theft in Puerto Cortés is focused along 8 Avenida, a vital road that connects the local oil refinery to the city’s main thoroughfares. During the trajectory, the thieves known as ‘lateros’, would ‘milk’ the trucks by extracting low amounts of fuel, even when the trucks were moving. They also stole bunker fuel, and other derivatives leaving the refinery.
The stolen fuel would then be stored in surrounding neighborhoods, such as Los Mangos and Campo Rojo, where the 50,000 liters were recovered.
Deputy Police Commissioner Marlon Miranda stated that while the police had been aware of the practice for years, a lack of complaints or charges by those impacted had made it challenging to prosecute anyone arrested in connection with oil theft.
And truck drivers are likely to be working in connection with these gangs, decreasing the chance of any complaints being made.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Mexico has been in the media spotlight of late for its ongoing crackdown against rampant oil theft, this Honduras case shows that criminal groups across Latin America continue to thrive from this source of illicit income.
While such theft has often been concentrated in large oil producers such as Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, smaller Central American countries have increasingly fallen prey to this practice.
Oil theft is an incredibly difficult practice to eradicate, given the plethora of ways in which it can be carried out. In Costa Rica, millions of dollars in losses have been seen through illegal oil taps on pipelines.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profile
In Honduras, where security gains appear to be very tenuous, it is telling that oil thieves can simply drive trucks up to refineries and siphon off gasoline from tankers rolling out of the gates.
The announcement of an in-depth investigation into fuel theft and the involvement of prosecutors, police, and the military in this latest raid raise hopes the government will finally take real action.
And with gasoline prices having been increasing rapidly in early 2019 in Honduras, urgent action is needed for fear of the demand for illegal fuel also growing in turn.