Million-dollar Robbery at the Cienfuegos Refinery / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 August 2015 — More than 500 barrels of fuel disappear daily from the terminals or storage tanks of the Camilo Cienfuegos refinery, located in the province of Cienfuegos on the south-central part of the island.

The theft, in addition to being really ingenious, has an organization that shows even seasonal patterns, revealing that there are fewer robberies in summer than in winter.

The Cienfuegos industrial enclave, after being shut down in 1995 and later materializing in the ALBA accords, with a remodeling and modernization project that cost over $83 million, reopened its doors in October 2007, as part of a large, mixed binational business between Cuba and Venezuela. However, with a processing capacity of over 8,000 barrels a day, the thefts are crippling and, let’s say it, frightening.

The authorities say that the Cienfuegos Polo Petrochemical project continues being a priority for both Governments, that they are consolidating their methods and doing everything possible to lower the statistics for fuel theft that continue to emerge. It’s known that part of the leakage occurs in “vampire operations,” which are nothing more than premeditated perforations in the pipes, where farmers clandestinely take small quantities of diesel for local farming activities and/or private provincial transport.

But those filterings are minimal and controlled by a systematic cross-checking of plant security, an efficient anti-theft offensive in conjunction with the national police.

The more important, apocalyptic, robbery, which doesn’t seem to interest any authority nor be suspected of being committed by a criminal with a Robin Hood complex, and whose distribution is the result of misdeeds and illegal gains at the service of the community, is centered on industrial quantities of refined gasoline being taken out of the refinery.

With the same notoriety as a polar bear hibernating in a Holguín park, “without anyone seeing anything,” hundreds of daily barrels of gasoline are packed in waterproof bags that normally are used for industrial waste or to guarantee the organoleptic stability of specified products.

There’s nothing discrete about it. The packages continue to mock the sophisticated security system, and they hop, like lice on the heads of babies, until they fall into the channel that flows into the Bay of Jagua.

Gasoline has a less specific weight than water; the packages float and the tide finishes the work. Of course some bags break, and the spill becomes a contaminant that directly affects the ecological equilibrium of the zone. But that, it appears, isn’t important either.

What’s interesting, or at least surprising for an illegal traffic impossible of being executed by a common criminal without having help is that, as in a Spartan task of extraordinary implications, it’s the efficient members of the border troops who finally pick up the floating bundles on the sea.

Who receives so much stolen gasoline? I don’t know; I couldn’t find out, and the more I asked, the more no one wanted to answer. Only one informed person told me:

“It neither returns to the refinery, nor is it lost in the black market.”

Translated by Regina Anavy