Mexico Seizes Zetas Diesel Headed to Honduras

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Mexico’s navy reportedly said it had seized some 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel, bound for Honduras, belonging to the Zetas, a sign that the group are expanding both their sources of income and their geographical reach.

Mexico’s navy seized 79,000 gallons of diesel fuel, hidden aboard a vessel (see picture) in Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche state, apparently bound for Honduras. Officers found the fuel during a routine inspection, and noticed it did not appear on the records of the Mexican-flagged vessel. The operation took place May 15, but was not reported until now.

Authorities said the ship’s crew claimed they received the fuel from other shipping vessels, EFE news service reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

While El Heraldo published a report saying the Navy had named the Zetas, neither a Navy press release nor EFE’s report mentioned the group.

Still, the group has aggressively expanded its sources of income with a major emphasis on fuel theft. Around 3 million barrels of petroleum were stolen from state-owned oil company Pemex in 2011, a 52 percent increase over 2010, representing a loss of almost half a billion dollars to the company. It is plausible that the fuel shipment belonged to the Zetas, and while they have been reported to sell stolen fuel to the US, sending it to Honduras would be a new development.

Though unprecedented, the sale of stolen fuel in Honduras would make sense, given the country’s vast contraband networks. While it may seem like a lot of trouble to ship 80,000 gallons of diesel to Honduras, Mexican fuel subsidies put downward pressure on prices, reducing the incentive to buy illicit fuel there.

Regardless of whether the ship’s crew indeed had ties to the Zetas, they would have had plenty of options for how to spend the money earned by selling stolen fuel in Honduras. The US State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (see pdf) said some 80 percent of drug flights from South America land first in Honduras. The stolen fuel may have served as a fundraising effort to enable the purchase of drugs to bring back north for sale.

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