Thursday, July 12, 2007

Guerrillas attack Pemex pipelines in Mexico,0,5950315.story?coll=la-home-center
From the Los Angeles Times
Mexico sends 5,000 troops to guard energy facilities
President Calderon dispatches an elite unit in response to guerrilla attacks on oil and natural gas pipelines. Fuel shortages have forced thousands of businesses to close.
By Héctor Tobar
Times Staff Writer

3:08 PM PDT, July 12, 2007

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Felipe Calderon has dispatched a new 5,000-strong elite military unit to guard strategic sites, including oil refineries and hydroelectric dams, in the wake of guerrilla attacks on pipelines operated by the national oil and gas company, Pemex, according to news reports Thursday.

Business leaders said as many as 1,000 manufacturing plants and other businesses in the Guanajuato-Queretaro region of central Mexico have been forced to shut down or scale back operations this week due to fuel shortages caused by the July 5 and July 10 attacks.

The leftist Popular Revolutionary Army, known by the Spanish initials EPR, claimed responsibility for the attacks Tuesday, saying they were in retaliation for the disappearance of two of their militants last year in the southern state of Oaxaca.

The EPR communiqué said the rebels had bombed three pipelines and a switching station in the states of Queretaro and Guanajuato. The explosions severed natural gas pipelines and a crude oil pipeline that links storage facilities in the Gulf of Mexico port of Poza Rica to a refinery in Salamanca, Guanajuato, reducing fuel supplies in the region.

A fire that had burned in Queretaro since a bombing at 1 a.m. Tuesday was extinguished late Wednesday, Pemex officials said. Two hundred workers were working Thursday to repair the damaged lines.

Natural gas deliveries to residential customers have scaled back in several cities in the region this week, including Celaya and Irapuato.

The attacks shook a government already facing challenges on several fronts: drug traffickers who outgun the police in several corners of the country, a stalled immigration reform bill in the United States, and declining output from Pemex, the country's main source of foreign exchange.

"All we Mexican men and women of good will categorically reject violence because we wish to live in liberty and peace," Calderon said Wednesday in his only reference to the attacks this week, at a ceremony announcing a new commuter rail project for Mexico City.

Calderon is dispatching the Corps of Federal Support Forces, an elite army unit created in May in response to the challenges of the government's war against drug trafficking, the newspaper El Universal reported Thursday. Mexican officials have confirmed the presence of troops at the oil facilities, but have not said which units have been sent.

The Chamber of Transformation Industries, a business group, estimated that shutdowns caused by the pipeline explosions were costing businesses in central Mexico between $5 million and $10 million in losses each day.

The region known as the Bajio, centered in Guanajuato and Queretaro, is home to some of Mexico's largest industrial plants. And at least a dozen major companies in the region reported shutdowns or slowdowns this week related to the attacks, including Honda Motor Co., The Hershey Co., Kellogg Co and Nissan Motor Co.

Grupo Modelo SA, Mexico's largest beer maker, was impacted because Mexico's largest glassmaker, Grupo Vitro, temporarily shut down glass factories in Queretaro and Guadalajara.

"The damage to the economy is serious," Ruben Aguilar Valenzuela wrote in the commentary in the newspaper Reforma on Thursday. "This [guerrilla] action was well thought out.... They picked a strategic objective."

According to news reports, Mexican authorities believe the bombers used an explosive gel often used in underground mining. A similar explosive was used in an attack on three banks in the southern state of Morelos in 2005.

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