Looting died down but demonstrations continued in Mexico after a sharp rise in gasoline prices took effect January 1, even as the deeply unpopular government of President Enrique Peña Nieto defended the step as “inevitable” and for the long-term good of the country.
“Mexicans angry over a double-digit hike in gasoline prices looted stores and blockaded roads,” Reuters reported last week, “amid escalating unrest over the rising cost of living in Latin America’s second biggest economy.” Hundreds of people were arrested on charges of looting in several states and Mexico City, where many businesses were forced to close their doors at the height of the unrest. Blockades of fuel storage terminals led to “critical” shortages of supply in at least three states, the national oil company Pemex said in a statement.
By yesterday, the Secretaría de Gobernación, Mexico’s interior ministry, asserted that all blockades of highways and fuel depots had been cleared, and no more vandalism or looting was occurring. However, demonstrations against the tax hike—dubbed ‘el gasolinazo’, or the ‘gasolining—continued in Mexico City.
Peña Nieto, in a televised statement reported in (Spanish-language) Milenio.com, said he “understood” his citizens’ anger and “shared” their pain at the price increase, but that not to have taken the step would have been more costly and painful later. He denied that the rise had anything to do with his administration’s controversial relaxing of Pemex’s monopoly as part of a wider set of energy market reforms, blaming it instead on rising international prices for gasoline.
Despite its status as a major oil producer, Mexico imports much of its vehicle fuel from the United States. Its currency, the peso, has plunged against the U.S. dollar in the wake of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated verbal attacks on the country, and his threats to derail its exports under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Peña Nieto’s credibility with his countrymen is at a low ebb, however, with barely one in four approving of his performance, after a series of personal scandals and an appearance of indifference to violent crime and corruption in the country.