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Latin America’s biggest market, struck by fuel shortage

The fuel shortage began after President López Obrador launched a plan to fight fuel theft

Latin America’s biggest market has been struck by fuel shortage
The Central de Abastos is the biggest market in Latin America - Photo: Jenifer Nava/EL UNIVERSAL
English 15/01/2019 13:44 Reuters y redacción Mexico City Sharay Angulo, Anthony Esposito, Pedro Villa y Caña Actualizada 13:44
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Latin America’s largest wholesale market, the Central de Abastos in Mexico City, has morphed from a typically busy and noisy to cloudy and anxious as deliveries and sales decrease amid a days-long fuel shortage in Mexico.

The shortage began after President López Obrador launched a plan to fight fuel theft; this is his first major move against widespread corruption and organized crime.

But the move to close key fuel pipelines that have been tapped by criminals and re-route distribution via trucks has prompted hours-long lines at gas stations while threatening to affect the economy and damage the President’s popularity if shortages persist.

The effects of the shortage have grown noticeably in the past week. At the Central de Abastos, where 62,000 cars and trucks travel every day to buy and sell fruits, plants and other goods, according to figures provided by the market, vendors say many have been staying home.

“40% to 50% of supply has been affected,” said Rafael Pérez, 43, the purchasing director for Drinks Depot, a beverages wholesaler. “We are talking about suppliers from Hidalgo, Guerrero, Cuernavaca, Puebla, and Tlaxcala.”

“Our suppliers’ deliveries have been impacted,” Pérez added. “Customers are not coming.”

Avocado vendor Juan Carlos Ximil, 35, said he had seen a drop of about 30 to 40% in sales, which he normally purchases from suppliers outside the capital, including Morelos, Mexico, and the avocado-producing state of Michoacán.

His customers, modest street-side vendors, and grocery stores with limited means of transport have stayed away too, he said, most likely because fears of long waits to stock up on gasoline, or a shortage itself, would hit hard at their carefully calibrated daily routines.

“I feel like, more than a shortage, there is a kind of collective panic,” said Ximil. “If you were used to consuming MXN $200 of gas you go and load up even if you don’t need it, for fear that you’ll run out.”

Joaquín Torres has been in Mexico City for three days, trying to sell 13 tons of oranges he brought from Veracruz. He considers that the fuel shortage has motivated his clients to stay at home. He is worried the tons of oranges could rot, which would be a considerable economic loss.

The man hopes that this situation, after the implementation of a federal plan to fight fuel theft, shows positive results because fuel theft has to end

“Hopefully all this is for good, but I hope it doesn't take long because if this situation continues, we're going to be even more affected,” he said.

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