The highways of Mexico continue to be risky for truckers as cargo thefts rose 6 percent for the first four months of 2019, according to the Mexico City-based National Chamber of Freight Transport (CANACAR).
More than 4,130 crimes were committed against cargo transporters from January through March 2019, up from 3,899 crimes for the same period in 2018, according to data collected by Mexican authorities.
“Many of our operators have been victims of robberies, attacks, assaults, beatings, torture, kidnappings and murders for the theft of the truck and the merchandise,” said CANACAR chief Enrique González Muñoz.
Founded in 1989, CANACAR represents the interests of the trucking industry in Mexico and is active in the development of laws, regulations and standards related to the transport of cargo within Mexico and across the border in the U.S.
“For CANACAR transporters, these events are not just another numerical statistic, they are valuable human lives that, under the protection of increasingly violent insecurity, have been lost in acts of cowardice and excessive attacks by criminals against our operators,” Muñoz said.
While CANACAR did not provide exact figures on how many cargo drivers have been attacked or killed, Mexican police report that armed robberies of cargo vehicles average around 31 a day. Most of the robberies occur at night.
CANACAR said 75 percent of all crimes committed against motorists and shippers occur in the Mexican states of Puebla, Michoacán, México state and Tlaxcala, costing the national economy an estimated $92.5 billion pesos (U.S. $4.8 billion) every year.
The most dangerous highways are Mexico City-Veracruz (Highway 150), Morelia-Lázaro Cárdenas (Highway 37), Mexico City-Querétaro (Highway 57), Querétaro-Salamanca-Irapuato (Highway 45), Mexico City-Cuernavaca-Chilpancingo (Highway 95) and Monterrey-Reynosa (Highway 40).
In response to the violence on the highways, the Mexican government recently unveiled several initiatives, including the Safe Roads Plan and the implementation of a newly created security force- both aimed at curbing theft and violence of cargo trucks and passenger cars across the country.
“If road safety had reasonable levels that would allow Mexicans and commerce to flow in an acceptable manner, we would not be here,” said Alfonso Durazo, Mexico’s Public Safety Secretary during a press conference in Mexico City April 8. “We must be fully aware of the lack of control in the safety of cargo and auto transport vehicles and the assault on passengers.”
A new security force will safeguard those routes where highway robbery has been worst, using security checkpoints, weapons and drug detectors and other measures to combat theft against transport trucks and motorists, concentrating initially in the Mexican states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, state of Mexico and Michoacán, Durazo said.
The Mexican government agencies involved in the Safe Roads Plan include the Ministry of the Interior, Office of National Defense, Office of the Navy, National Intelligence Center, Ministry of Finance, Service of Tax Administration, Administration of Foreign Trade and Customs, and the Office of Tourism.
“The program is for places of safety that have been secured, so that vehicle operators have safe places to rest, they will be provided with safety and they will be offered services such as rest areas, restrooms, refueling, lodging, among others,” said Arturo Jimenez Martinez, Mexico’s National Security Commissioner.
United States Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-McAllen) said the issues of highway robbery and violence in Mexico affects trade in the U.S. About $1.3 billion in goods move daily across the border between Mexico and the U.S.
In recent months, Gonzalez said he lobbied with Durazo and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for the inclusion of Highway 40— which connects Monterrey and Nuveo Leon in northern Mexico to McAllen, Texas— in the Safe Roads Plan.
“For the last several years, highway robberies, assault, and violence have inhibited the free, safe, and efficient flow of goods and people between Monterrey, Reynosa, and the United States,” Gonzalez said in a release to the McAllen Monitor newspaper. “(Mexican) national police are going to be guarding this road very intensively probably every 20 kilometers. There’s going to be technology, drones and other methods to secure that route. We want to create a route where we can tell our citizens both in the United States and in Monterrey, Mexico that if you take this road from point a to point b we will guarantee you your security.”
Gonzalez said he grew up going back and forth from McAllen to Monterrey, and Highway 40 is a notorious route for extortionists that force motorists to pay a fee for their “safety.”
“Having spent summers during my youth and conducted business as an adult in Monterrey, I know that the strength of our binational economic relationship is measured not only by the number of dollars, pesos, and products that cross our borders but also in terms of trust, security, certainty, and efficiency,” Gonzalez stated. “I am hopeful that securing this highway will create additional opportunities for cross-border trade and travel.”
Muñoz of CANACAR said the Safe Roads Plan and the implementation of national guardsmen on highways across Mexico are steps in the right direction.
“We express our greatest support to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his government in the implementation of new security schemes, such as the National Guard and the Safe Roads Plan,” Muñoz said. “We will not stop participating, in order to return security to all Mexicans, preserve it and avoid further damage, especially to the families of those Mexicans who are a pride for our transportation system— our drivers.”