AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now to Mexico, where the president's war on corruption has made it hard for people to fill up their cars. For years, Mexico has lost billions to fuel theft by criminals hacking into pipelines. In response, the government has shut down key pipelines and ordered fuel transported now by trucks - the result, severe gas shortages and long lines at the pump. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK STARTING UP)
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A gasoline cargo truck pulls into a station in the northern state of Reynosa. Such an event wouldn't usually draw large crowd, but residents in this border city had been lining up for hours on rumors that a gas delivery was coming.
AGUSTIN BARRIOS: Probably going to be another hour just to discharge that whole truck.
KAHN: Agustin Barrios, a local tattoo artist, is clearly bored and tired of sitting in his car. But he said he's resigned to wait it out.
BARRIOS: We know this is what we gotta go through right now. We ain't got no other choice.
KAHN: The shortages started earlier this week when the government shut down key distribution pipelines hoping to thwart the fuel thieves. For decades, robbers have drilled directly into pipelines, siphoning off nearly $3 billion a year. Gas now is being trucked to fuel depots, greatly slowing down distribution and raising the cost.
(SOUNDBITE OF ATTENDANT PUMPING GAS)
KAHN: As a gas station attendant fills up Brenda Jaramillo's tank in Reynosa, she visibly relaxes. She says people are bringing on a lot of the problems themselves. Before, she says, we'd just buy five or 10 bucks of gas.
BRENDA JARAMILLO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Now everyone is filling up their tanks. We've brought this chaos upon ourselves," she says. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been urging motorists not to panic-buy and insists there is no gas shortage. Today he acknowledged people's patience is wearing thin.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "We have to resolve this problem, all of us together," he said after presenting a slideshow highlighting what he said were successes in his new anti-fuel-theft fight. A poll in today's Reforma newspaper showed a majority of Mexicans seemed to be sticking by the new president. Sixty-two percent of those polled believe shutting off the pipelines was a good move to thwart the thieves. But it's unclear how long that support will last and most importantly when supplies will go back to normal. Dwight Dyer, an energy consultant and former government official, says economic losses are enormous and mounting. He says it's admirable of the government to go after corruption.
DWIGHT DYER: It's a tough problem, but I think the strategy that's deployed right now is shortsighted.
KAHN: That plan is sending workers out to repair the tapped pipelines and stationing thousands of troops to guard against any new illegal drilling. But Dyer says past administrations have tried similar strategies. Once the soldiers leave though, the thieves always return, he says.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KAHN: Banda Cruz De La Candelaria serenaded distressed motorists at a gas station in Morelia, Michoacan. They used empty plastic gas containers as drums.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KAHN: But Mexico City taxi driver Christian Camacho says he can't take much more of this. He got up at 1 this morning to line up. He says he didn't get gas until 4:30 am.
CHRISTIAN CAMACHO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Lopez Obrador should have thought this out better and put a better plan in place," he says, "so not all of us would be suffering now." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLAKROC FT. JIM JONES & MOS DEF SONG "AIN'T NOTHING LIKE YOU (HOOCHI COO)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.