Four months into his presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador walked up to a podium at Mexico’s national palace and declared victory against the hordes of thieves that had been siphoning millions of gallons of gasoline a day from government-run pipelines for years.
“We have managed to practically eliminate fuel theft,” the president, known as AMLO, proclaimed three years ago. He turned around to face a chart projected behind him and began rattling off some self-affirming numbers. Under his watch, he said, fuel theft had fallen 94%. Stolen gallons had dropped from 3.4 million a day in November 2018—the month before AMLO took office—to roughly 200,000 in April 2019, saving the state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, billions of dollars.