With the government having clamped down on fuel theft, criminals in Guanajuato and Querétaro are increasingly turning to freight trains. Last year an average of two railcars were robbed each week, but in the first six months of 2020 that number has increased to three per day, the newspaper Reforma reports.
The shift in targets is likely due to the pressure inflicted on the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, notorious for fuel theft in the area. Its leader, José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, alias El Marro, was arrested on August 2 on charges of kidnapping, organized crime and fuel theft after an 18-month manhunt.
Freight companies and cargo transportation experts have identified hot spots for train robberies in Mexico’s Bajío central lowlands region: El Ahorcado in Querétaro and Empalme Escobedo and Apaseo El Alto and Apaseo El Grande in Guanajuato.
The exact number of train robberies that have occurred is unknown, as many go unreported, said security expert Marcos Solórzano Cataño, and the problem is not likely to go away anytime soon. Fuel thieves have the infrastructure and the protection of local residents already in place, making the transition from gas to cargo relatively easy.
Solórzano said thieves mainly target train cars carrying auto parts, grains, seeds, consumer goods and construction material.
Nationally, the number of train robberies has been declining. In 2016, 9,042 train robberies were reported whereas the first three months of 2020 have seen just 1,306. The majority of train robberies occur in Puebla, Veracruz and Tlaxcala, government officials say.