Four days after the first sporadic protests emerged in Mexico City, following the infamous "gasolinazo", or mandatory 15%-20% spike in Mexican gas prices which went into effect on January 1, the mood across the country has significantly deteriorated, with hundreds of demonstrators blocking highways, raiding gas stations, and looting stores as angry but impotent motorists lash out at the price surge, which is only going to get worse as inflation spikes even more following the record plunge in the Mexican Peso.
Residents steal fuel and diesel from a gas station in Veracruz state
As a reminder, the price of oil rose Sunday by as high as 20.1% to 88 cents per liter, with diesel at 83 cents — the equivalent of 12 days of a minimum wage to fill a tank of gas - compared to the U.S.’s seven hours — and the price ceiling will be adjusted daily starting Feb. 18, before letting supply and demand determine them in March.
The unrest has caused some gas stations to close altogether. Antonio Caballero, who heads a network of 800 gas stations, said at a press conference this week he will temporarily close any filling station threatened by violent protesters. According to unconfirmed reports, even the local drug cartels warned ahead of the price hike they would burn down gas stations should the price increase come into effect.
A group of people grabs toys as a store is ransacked by a crowd in the port of
Veracruz, Mexico after frustrations over a sharp gas price hike erupt into violence
However, as tends to happen during mass civil disturbances, it’s not just gas stations that are being targeted. Some protesters have used the gasolinazo as an excuse to loot supermarkets and other stores in several states.
— Carlos Loret de Mola (@CarlosLoret) January 4, 2017
The unrest 'resulting in the theft of merchandise put at risk the lives of clients and workers in the stores, primarily in Mexico State, Michoacan, Hidalgo and Mexico City,' the statement said. In the Gulf coast city of Veracruz, 50 establishments including convenience stores, supermarkets and big-box outlets suffered looting, according to a preliminary count by the local chamber of commerce.
Store guards were overrun by crowds who carried off clothing, food, washing machines, televisions, DVD players and refrigerators
Extra police patrols were deployed, and at least 14 people were detained, the state government reported. At one supermarket officers fired into the air to disperse the multitudes.
According to Fusion, adding to the chaos on the streets is a wave of unconfirmed news and threats on social media perpetuating rumors about a curfew on Wednesday, pushing some businesses to temporarily close two days before Mexico’s Día de Reyes, a religious holiday that normally has parents flocking to stores to buy toys for their kids.
Mexicans’ collective anger over the situation is being directed mostly at President Enrique Peña Nieto, who in 2015 had promised that country’s frequent pump price hikes would end with his much-touted finance and energy reform plans. However, as a result of the plunge in oil prices , the long-awaited liberalization of the country’s energy sector which would have led to lower prices, the promised relief at the pump has yet to materialize.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, president Nieto called the gas price hike “painful” yet “inevitable.”
2) Gracias a la Reforma Hacendaria, por 1era. vez en 5 años, ya no habrá incrementos mensuales a los precios de la gasolina, diésel y gas LP
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) January 5, 2015
“I call society to listen to the reasons for taking this decision, which, without having been made, I must say, would have led to more painful effects and consequences,” he said Wednesday after several days of notable silence. He added that he understands the anger of Mexicans and did not want to make the “painful, difficult and inevitable” move, but had to.
He told Mexicans Wednesday to accept the dramatic hike in gas prices as a necessary move, to the anger of “gasolinazo” protesters, who reiterated their call to take down the country’s most unpopular president on record.
Demonstrators stormed several government buildings on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of Nieto and sympathetic state governors who have promoted the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s neoliberal reforms that have included privatizing the national oil company Pemex. Pena Nieto had promised to lower gas prices in his campaign, but they have kept rising since he took office.
A series of actions, including boycotts, petition signing, meetings, assemblies and civil disobedience are planned for the week, as the prologue to a national march next week. As of earlier this week, tens of thousands have already participated in roadblocks and seized, looted and vandalized gas stations, prompting 400 stations to close and affecting the operations of airports and bus stations.
The tweet below lays out a "map of peaceful protests against gasolinazo. We have the right to protest."
Meanwhile, the blowback against the unpopular price hike is spreading to the political class. Pemex has requested that state governors help open access to stations to continue business, but several governors have already come out against the hike. The governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, said he would not deploy forces to quell the protest, which he supports, and Aristoteles Sandoval of Jalisco, who is a member of the PRI, said Mexicans have a right to be angry. Veracruz Governor Miguel Angel Yunes said he expects the rise to mostly affect the poor and threaten political stability, lamenting that Peña Nieto did not consult governors before implementing the measure.
Taxes represent 44 percent of the price of gasoline, tweeted Guadalajara Mayor Enrique Alfaro, adding to a trending hashtag, #ReversaAlGasolinazo, to reverse the measure by lowering taxes.
Several media and politicians, including Peña Nieto, have denounced the protests as violent, which organizers insist is a mischaracterization of the peaceful actions, which aim to redistribute oil for free or at significantly reduced prices. Many extrapolated their opposition as opposition also to violence, corruption and impunity in the country, with which they hope to create a wider front against Peña Nieto's administration and business-as-usual in traditionally authoritarian Mexican politics.
"The history of our country is stained with big and deep social problems without resolution," wrote feminist group MujerEs YA!, "where violence and impunity have marked the path of daily life, until the point of voracious alienation that plays between indifference and immobility, which uses whatever measure to convince the public of its uselessness, of its drowned inert voice, accustomed to the toxic, a population that merits little, because it demands little, because it naturalizes its own death."
— Samuel Mendoza (@SamuelMdzM) January 3, 2017
But the worst is yet to come. According to increasingly more analysts, who initially were silent on the topic, the price increase will raise the price of basic goods, provoke unemployment, inflation, economic stagnation and potentially economic contraction and even recession.