The Great Mexican Train Robberies
Criminals target railways
Early on the morning of May 19, 2018, residents on the outskirts of the town Orizaba, Veracruz — close to the bordering state of Puebla in Mexico — woke up to a loud crash.
A train with 39 cars and four locomotives crashed into another train when approaching the station. The conductor of the approaching train attempted to brake, but couldn’t because the brakes were cut, according to the Grupo Mexico Transporte, the company that owns and runs the train.
The aftermath looked like a post-apocalyptic scene — train cars overturned, piled up, and a pedestrian bridge destroyed.
Grupo Mexico Transporte instantly called this act sabotage and pointed to the culprits as being organized crime. The company ruled out the possibility of human error because of the way the trains are remotely operated.
The governor of the state of Veracruz, Miguel Angel Yunes Linares, was doubtful of the company’s claims that it was an act of sabotage. The Orizaba incident, though the most destructive, is part of the larger phenomenon of the robbing of cargo trains by criminal organizations.
There has been a 476-percent increase of the number of robberies similar to the one that occurred in Orizaba, according to Confederation of the Industrial Chambers, when the first quarter of this year was compared to the first quarter of last year. There were also six previous derailments of trains in April and May 2018.
In the first quarter of 2018, there was a robbery of a train every 2.5 hours, according to the Regulatory Agency for Rail Transport. The main products that have been robbed from the thefts of cargo trains have been grain and flour, finished consumer products, auto parts and construction materials.
Though it’s not clear if any goods were stolen from the trains that crashed around Orizaba, it is likely this was the motive because of the previous theft of cargo trains in the area and the tactic of sabotage being used prior. There has also been suspicion that the sabotage was in retaliation for the company not paying a “floor payment” that the criminal organization had demanded.
The supposed person behind the sabotaging and robberies of the trains in the area is Roberto De Los Santos De Jesus, known as El Bukanans. After the derailment in Orizaba on May 19, 2018, the reward for information that leads to his arrest was increased from one million pesos to five million pesos.
His experience is indicative of the criminal organizations and their involvement in criminal enterprises other than drug trafficking. Originally a police officer, he defected in 2012 to join the Zetas. After that organization splintered, he went to join the Zeta Nueva Sangre and then subsequently head the organization. Under his rule, authorities believe, the group began to rob trains.
What the sabotaging of trains in Veracruz shows is the impact that criminal organizations can have on industry. They can have a debilitating effects on companies and their operations. Grupo Mexico Transporte, the company whose trains were involved in Orizaba, said it lost 312 million pesos from the Orizaba derailment and 6 previous derailments that occurred in April and May 2018, with 11 million of that money going to cover the loss of cargo and 171 million going to repair the tracks and trains.
Recently, companies’ operations in Mexico have been hindered by insecurity and organized crime. The Canadian Pan American Silver Corporation reduced operations in the state of Chihuahua citing insecurity. The bottling company, Coca-Cola FEMSA recently indefinitely closed down a distribution center in the state of Guerrero due to the “harassment of criminal groups.”
At the end of May 2018, two of the country’s most influential business organizations, demanded that government to end the violence and crime because of the how it is affecting business.
In 2017 Mexico reached its deadliest year on record, with the country experiencing almost 30,000 homicides. Additionally, about 98 percent of all crimes going unpunished creating an environment of impunity that allows for criminal organizations to operate in the country.