In Mexico, freeway theft is large drawback for truckers

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PUEBLA, Mexico — Glancing always at his rear view mirror, truck driver “El Flaco” journeys the highways of Mexico haunted by the reminiscence of when he was kidnapped together with his safety element by bandits disguised as law enforcement officials two years in the past.

Again then, El Flaco, who spoke on situation of anonymity for concern of reprisals, was crushed, blindfolded and brought to a home close to Mexico Metropolis the place his captors threatened to kill him. Three days later he managed to flee and flee.

Right this moment he travels with a machete and a satellite tv for pc monitoring machine in his cab that may pinpoint him in emergencies.

Truckers protecting Mexico’s huge territory typically transfer in convoys to cut back the chance of robberies, which in 2017 virtually doubled to just about three,000. Some drive with armed escorts touring alongside them. Others take away the logos from their vehicles.

Firms like brewer Grupo Modelo, a unit of AB InBev, and the Mexican subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics have stepped up efforts to guard their drivers, deploying subtle geo-location expertise and growing communication with authorities.

The issue is a part of a wider Latin American scourge of freeway theft that acts as an additional drag on a area lengthy held again by sub-par infrastructure.

“Roads are getting increasingly more harmful, you strive to not cease,” the 50-year-old El Flaco mentioned, as he drove within the central state of Puebla, the epicenter of freeway freight theft.

“Since I used to be kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the behavior of trying within the mirror, checking automotive quantity plates, who’s gone previous me,” he added. “I take a look at every part.”

On probably the most harmful roads, like these connecting Mexico Metropolis with main ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, it’s virtually sure that one in each two truckers will probably be held up, a examine by U.S.-based safety agency Sensitech confirmed.

Whereas no official knowledge on losses exist, insurers paid out virtually $100 million in 2016 to crime-hit cargo operators, up four.5 p.c on 2015, Mexican insurance coverage affiliation AMIS says.

The true sum is probably going far greater: just one in three masses is insured as a result of price, in response to trade estimates.

Greater than 80 p.c of products are transported by street and rail in Mexico, and the thefts are hurting competitiveness at a time the nation is in search of to diversify commerce and faucet new sources of enterprise.

Fuels, meals and drinks, constructing supplies, chemical substances, digital items, auto elements and clothes are all high targets, Sensitech mentioned.

COMPETITION SQUEEZE

Upon taking workplace in December 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness. However after some preliminary progress, the scenario deteriorated and murders hit their highest degree on file final 12 months.

Freeway robberies of vehicles fell via 2014. However they virtually doubled in 2015 to 985, hit 1,587 in 2016 and reached 2,944 final 12 months.

The federal government has responded by stepping up police patrols in affected areas and lengthening jail sentences for freight theft to 15 years.

However robberies are nonetheless rising and most aren’t even reported as a result of arduous bureaucratic course of concerned, Sensitech says.

“It is hurting productiveness and competitiveness,” mentioned Leonardo Gomez, who heads a transportation nationwide trade physique.

Some drivers are armoring cabs in vehicles made by firms like U.S. agency Kenworth, an costly transfer that also solely covers a tiny fraction of the virtually 11 million vehicles crisscrossing Latin America’s second-largest economic system.

Final 12 months, 53 vehicles had been armored in opposition to high-caliber weapons, up 40 p.c from 2016, in response to the Mexican Affiliation of Automotive Armorers.

Assaults aren’t confined to roads. Some 1,752 robberies had been recorded on railways final 12 months, official knowledge present.

Criminals have additionally turn into extra subtle.

They’re turning to high-caliber weapons and make use of units to dam World Positioning Techniques (GPS) to forestall vehicles speaking their whereabouts, specialists say.

Beforehand, firms that suffered robberies had been usually capable of recuperate their automobiles. Not any extra.

“It isn’t simply the products they need, it is the vehicles too,” mentioned Carlos Jimenez of Mexican insurance coverage affiliation AMIS.

Reporting by Noe Torres and Lizbeth Diaz.

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