Mexico's President Fights Gas Crisis, While Mexicans Endure Long Lines With Jokes

Motorists wait in line for hours to buy gasoline at a Pemex service station in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sunday. The Mexican president temporarily closed some of the state oil company’s pipelines, in a bid to wipe out rampant fuel theft.

Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

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Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says his crackdown on gas thieves in the country is working, even though long lines at the pump in several states persist, distribution bottlenecks continue and new acts of fuel theft are reported.

As he has done every day since the gas crisis, now well into its second week, López Obrador insists gas sales and distribution will stabilize soon.

“We haven’t stopped working on returning the service to normal, we are not without gas, all is moving forward,” the president said at his daily morning news conference on Tuesday. He also reported new acts of what he called “sabotage” and drilling into the state oil company Pemex’s main gas pipeline late Monday.

Thieves tap into gas and diesel pipelines and siphon out the fuel to sell on the black market. Much of the theft is committed by organized crime gangs, many times with complicity of Pemex workers and officials. Fuel theft in Mexico has increased sharply over the years, with losses for Pemex totaling $3 billion in 2018 alone, according to a government estimate.

The government said it dispatched 5,000 members of the armed services and federal police to guard points along the pipelines and Pemex distribution sites to cut down on the theft. Armed escorts now accompany truck drivers on their routes.

Last month, López Obrador shut down six pipelines to thwart the thieves and began trucking gas to stations, a much securer but slower and costly alternative. Within a week, fuel shortages led to shuttered stations and long lines around the country.

López Obrador says Pemex will purchase 500 more gas trucks to get the fuel to even more stations. He said those purchases would be made from the money saved by cracking down on the theft.

The widespread shortages and ensuing economic losses for businesses have put the president on the defensive. Critics say his crackdown on corruption, while admirable, was impromptu and ill-planned.

Members of the opposition National Action Party began distributing a video calling the president incompetent and his plan irresponsible.

And congressional legislators cried foul when members of the Cabinet failed to show up to a hearing investigating the gas crisis.

So far, López Obrador is weathering the storm. Polls from several newspapers this week show strong support for his plan to combat gas theft.

The heist is colloquially known as huachicol or huachicoleo. The term is related to guacho — believed to originate from the Mayan word waach — which means “thief” in parts of Mexico, according to the Diccionario de Mexiconismos.

Until supplies return to normal, López Obrador continues to warn against panic buying and pleads for more patience.

It’s hard to tell how long Mexicans’ patience will last. Social media is full of pictures of winding lines of cars waiting hours for gas, as well as videos of fights breaking out. Tweets of Mexican humor abound too.

In one meme, which viewers say was recycled from Venezuela’s gas crisis, a man is on one knee proposing to his girlfriend. He doesn’t have a ring to offer, but a gallon of gas.

#detallesqueenamoran feliz noche Tuiteros , descansen.#DesabastoGasolina

— Marcela HerreraR (@MarcelaHerreraR) January 9, 2019

Another shows a Valentine’s Day suggestion: bottled regular and premium Pemex gas, available in stylish perfume bottles.

Sin duda alguna, el@mejor regalo para este 14 de febrero

— Pememex (@Pememex_) January 14, 2019

Or for the kids, there’s a new toy truck — with Tonka-style packaging. It’s a standard pickup, with full containers of stolen fuel in the back.

¿¡Cuesta 200 pesos!? ¿Los botes traen #Gasolina o que??? #HUACHICOL #Pemex

— Nana Gza🍄 (@nana_gza) January 13, 2019

And a favorite: a tweeted image of the side of a stained old gas container, which on first glance looks a lot like an ancient Aztec or Olmec statute. The caption reads God of the Gasoline.

Huachicoloyotl mediante.

— Luis Jaime Estrada (@luisjaime_ec) January 15, 2019

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Feds List What They Call Manafort Lies But Few Details Visible In Blacked Out Filing

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing in U.S District Court in June 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Justice Department laid out what it called a series of lies Paul Manafort has told since agreeing to cooperate with the government but few details are visible in a new court document.

The office of special counsel Robert Mueller filed new documentation on Tuesday that describes what it calls deliberate falsehoods that Manafort has told in support of the government’s argument that his plea deal is now void.

Manafort, the document says, lied about payments and financial relationships; about his dealings with his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who also was indicted last year; his contacts with people in the Trump administration; and other topics.

Although the new document is heavily redacted, it appears to match some details from an earlier brief filed by Manafort’s attorneys, one that also was redacted but which didn’t actually conceal its contents.

That document referred to, for example, Manafort authorizing someone in May of 2018 to drop his name if they got a meeting with Trump, a discussion also described in the government’s new filing.

Manafort has been in a long-running dispute with prosecutors over his plea agreement.

The government argued that he has violated it by allegedly lying in interviews since he agreed to give information truthfully and completely. That was part of a deal in which Manafort escaped a trial on conspiracy charges last year in Washington, D.C. He was also convicted in a separate case earlier in the year in Alexandria, Va.

Manafort’s lawyers say any incorrect statements were inadvertent and that he has given the government valuable information.

Tuesday’s submission was the latest installment in a battle of court filings in the dispute over the plea agreement. The previous one took place last week in a document filed by Manafort’s lawyers — a brief that made headlines that his legal team did not intend.

Manafort’s legal team attempted to conceal sensitive passages from the document but Web users quickly discovered they could see what had been written.

That was how the information became public about Manafort’s meetings in 2016 at which he discussed campaign polling data with a business associate who has been linked to Russian intelligence services.

The filing from last week also included a description of a meeting in which Manafort and his business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik, discussed a “peace plan” for Ukraine — understood to involve potential sanctions relief for Russia — and a conversation in which Manafort authorized someone to drop his name if the person was able to secure a meeting with President Trump.

The focus for Manafort’s team, however, was on what they called inadvertent comments by Manafort to investigators that they argued did not amount to a concerted campaign of lies sufficient to vitiate the plea agreement.

Manafort and his lawyers argue that his plea agreement is still in effect and that he still should get consideration from a judge when he is sentenced. Whether or not his cooperation is considered — depending on the viability of the plea deal — could make a significant difference in the amount of prison time that Manafort could receive at sentencing.

But no matter how the current dispute ends between Manafort and federal authorities, that may not be the end of the story for him. Trump has praised what he called Manafort’s toughness and unwillingness to “break.”

The president also hasn’t ruled out pardons for Manafort or others in the Russia imbroglio. Tuesday’s filing comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a confirmation hearing for William Barr, Trump’s nominee to serve as attorney general.

The last time Barr served as attorney general, in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, he supported that president’s use of pardons at the end of the Iran-Contra affair.

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