Millions of gallons of illegal petrol are flowing into Guatemala from Mexico each week, part of a highly lucrative regional trade that authorities are struggling to combat.
Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said the trade is controlled by organized crime groups, which use the contraband fuel to turn profit and are thought to launder the money by building new gas stations, reported La Hora. He did not specify which groups were involved, but expressed doubt over earlier suggestions that Mexican criminal group the Zetas were responsible for much of the trade.
According to Bonilla, 65 "blind spots" have been identified along the more than 500 mile border between the two countries, through which contraband goods flow, with "eight or nine" of them thought to be used to move illegal fuel.
Guatemalan Association of Fuel Retailers representative Enrique Melendez estimated between 300,000 and 350,000 gallons of illegal fuel enter Guatemala from Mexico each day.
"In losses, if you take 300,000 at an average of 33 quetzals [$4.20 -- per gallon] we're talking about almost nine or ten million quetzals [$1.2 - $1.3 million] each day," Melendez told La Hora.
InSight Crime Analysis
The flow of contraband products into Guatemala is on the rise and is currently estimated to cost the country up to $1.6 billion per year, with the majority of losses in tobacco, alcohol and gasoline.
The idea that the Zetas have no part in the flow of illegal fuel between Mexico and Guatemala seems optimistic. The Zetas are known to be involved in fuel theft in Mexico, have been linked to contraband fuel shipments heading elsewhere in the region and also have a significant presence in Guatemala -- although their power in that country has waned recently.
SEE ALSO: Zetas in Guatemala
The trade in contraband fuel is a region wide problem largely driven by major disparities in prices between neighboring countries. The effects of this are most often felt in countries bordering key producer nations like Mexico and Venezuela. Despite having its own oil reserves, Colombia sees significant quantities of contraband fuel flowing in from both Venezuela and Ecuador, where left-leaning governments maintain low prices.
In Venezuela -- the region's biggest producer -- petrol is sold cheaper than bottled water, giving rise to the smuggling of hundreds of millions of dollars of fuel, not just across land borders, but also overseas to the Caribbean and Central America.