Surge in Cargo Robberies in Mexico as Crime Hits ‘Levels Never Seen Before’

By Mark Browne | May 30, 2018 | 9:05pm EDT
A truck in Mexico City. The number of robberies of cargo trucks in Mexico reportedly climbed by 65 percent in the first quarter of this year. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mexico City ( – Law enforcement agencies in Mexico are severely under resourced to effectively combat a significant surge in highway robbery and train heists in Mexico, according to local and international experts.

This comes amid reports of a 65 percent surge in the number of robberies of cargo trucks in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the same period last year.

“We are in a collapsed state in terms of the state’s ability to investigate the number of crimes,” said Francisco Rivas, director of the citizens’ crime watch group National Citizen Observatory.

The government has not dedicated the funding or resources needed to adequately investigate and prosecute the crimes, he said.

The authorities are also “not doing anything” to trace the goods stolen in heists on Mexico’s highways and railroads, and have failed to shut down the illicit markets where the stolen goods are sold, Rivas said.

A leading business group on Monday called for action to be taken before a new president is sworn in on Dec. 1, following elections scheduled for July 1.

“The urgency of the situation is evident. There is a prevailing need for the authorities not to postpone the reforms that the country needs to live in peace,” COPARMEX said in a posting to its website Monday.

“Violence and crime have reached levels never seen before.”

According to data collected by the supply chain consultancy Sensitech, robberies of tractor trailers moving cargo on Mexico’s highways surged by 65 percent – to 3,346 – in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2017.

The number of robberies has more than doubled compared to the first quarter of 2016, it found.

Most truck robberies happen at night, with the majority occurring along the highway leading from the shipping port of Veracruz on the gulf coast to the country’s center.

“Cargo theft in Mexico shows no sign of abating and in the current criminal environment we can anticipate that it will continue to rise,” the risk consultancy Stratfor said in a compilation of recent highway robbery data for Mexico.

The country has also seen a dramatic rise in train heists, Stratfor analyst Scott Stewart told There were 720 cargo heists from trains in the first three months of this year compared to 125 in the same period in 2017.

“That is a very dramatic increase and we have seen some pretty spectacular attacks.”

On May 19, for instance, vandals disconnected hydraulic lines on a train moving cargo in Veracruz, causing the train to lose braking capacity and crash when it reached the city of Orizaba.

On May 8, thieves removed tracks, causing a train to derail in in Acultzingo Veracruz, but were stopped by police from carrying out a robbery of the cargo.

Stewart said businesses are fighting back by using counter surveillance to identify when potential thieves are following trucks on highways. They are also hiding GPS devices in cargo merchandise so it can be tracked after robberies.

Thieves, however, have deployed sophisticated GPS sensors so they can detect and remove the GPS devices.

Most truck robberies (73 percent) are performed by armed criminals, and some drivers have been beaten or killed, Stewart said.

Law enforcement “has so many things demanding their attention right now it is difficult for them to dedicate the resources needed to combat the problem.”

Mexico’s military, deployed by former President Enrique Calderon to fight criminal drug gangs, is no longer providing protection on the country’s highways, according to Mexico City security expert Raúl Benitez.

Federal prosecutorial staff and resources have not grown sufficiently to address the problem of declining security in the country, and state governors are not “assuming their responsibilities” in the fight against crime, he added.

Robberies of trains and gasoline in the state of Guanajuato north of Mexico City have increased significantly and local government lacks necessary police resources and has failed to invest sufficiently in them.

“It’s a big security crisis that’s affecting the population and businesses,” Benitez said in an emailed response to queries.

Rivas said that whoever wins Mexico’s presidential election must make decisions about how to increase Mexico’s crime fighting abilities.

The question is whether a new government will dedicate the necessary resources.

“Time has run out for this government,” COPARMEX said in its posting. “We can’t continue to wait. This is the last call.”

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