Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto told Mexicans Wednesday to accept the dramatic hike in gas prices as a necessary move, to the furor 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 Peña Nieto and sympathetic state governors who have promoted the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s neoliberal reforms that have included privatizing the national oil company Pemex. Peña Nieto had promised to lower gas prices in his campaign, but they have kept rising since he took office.
The price of oil rose Sunday by as high as 20.1 percent 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.
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.
"Map of peaceful protests against gasolinazo. We have the right to protest."
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.
The 22 percent price hike came as the government cuts oil subsidies, a move which Peña Nieto said has more to do with the international market than with national reforms.
“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.
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.
According to analysts, the increase will raise the price of basic goods, provoke unemployment, inflation, economic stagnation and potentially economic contraction and even recession.
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."