Tens of thousands of trucks on Mexico’s highways are being hijacked for their cargo each year, with criminal gangs becoming more daring, sophisticated and violent in carrying out these assaults.
Around 36 trucks are hijacked or stolen every day in Mexico, according to the Mexican news outlet Eje Central. And such attacks have become better coordinated and planned in recent years, Borderland Beat reported in late March.
Highway robberies, commonly committed by gangs of 6 to 8 gunmen, have dedicated surveillance teams monitoring truck movements. Armed assailants will use multiple cars to block the truck’s path, and will either unhook its cargo trailer and reattach it onto another vehicle, transfer the goods into their own truck, or steal the whole vehicle. Drivers are taken hostage to delay police response and are sometimes killed.
Many cargo businesses have resorted to sending costly security escorts to accompany drivers. These guards, however, are often outnumbered and outgunned. Devices have also been used to jam the trucks’ navigation systems to stop them from being tracked. In some cases, gangs use underground scrapping facilities to quickly dismantle stolen trucks.
Criminals target vehicles carrying high-value and high-demand products. The food and beverage sector makes up a third of the total items stolen, especially grains such as corn, wheat and soy which are considered “attractive basic consumables,” reported El Universal, citing Mexico's Confederation of Industrial Chambers (Confederación de Cámaras Industriales de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos - CONCAMIN), a trade association.
Mexico's National Association of Vehicle Tracking and Protection Companies (Asociación Nacional de Empresas de Rastreo y Protección Vehicular - ANERPV) reported a small and steady uptick in cargo theft despite supply chain disruptions and a reduced volume of goods being transported due to COVID-19.
In fact, the pandemic has created new high-value targets. At the height of Mexico’s medical oxygen shortage in January, two armed men hijacked a truck in order to steal oxygen canisters being transported to a nearby plant.
InSight Crime Analysis
Borderland Beat's report stated that Mexico’s major cartels are involved in the massive number of highway robberies, giving two main reasons for the assertion.
First, around 75 percent of hijackings occur on ten highways, located predominately in the central states of Guanajuato, Puebla, Querétaro, the State of Mexico and Jalisco.
Specifically, federal highway 150D, which connects Mexico City to the country’s main eastern seaport in Veracruz, represents nearly a fifth of cargo thefts reported.
Borderland Beat asserted that these routes are critical for drug trafficking, making it unlikely that minor groups would be able to operate along these highways without the support of cartels.
Secondly, the report states that cartel involvement in cargo theft is consistent with the current, diversified state of cartel operations in Mexico.
These larger groups may control and fund smaller gangs carrying out the attacks, which explains the apparent sophistication of their operations, according to Borderland Beat.
However, Mexico's hyperviolent and fractured criminal landscape also foments this class of crimes, with smaller but heavily armed groups taking them on independently in some cases. Truck robberies along Mexican interstates present a crime of opportunity with a low barrier to entry. While larger criminal groups may claim the lion's share of these robberies in states under their control, it would be difficult for a single organization to police an entire highway, especially in states such as Guanajuato or Veracruz that are being contested by a number of rival groups.
The Mexican government’s response has been to impose penalties of 6 to12 years to those caught hijacking trucks, regardless of the amount stolen, but this does not appear to have deterred these hijackings to date.