- REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
On December 27, days after gasoline shortages closed gas stations and caused immense lines at others, the Mexican government announced that gasoline and diesel prices would go up by between 14% and 20% over the next year.
The price increases come as part of a planned liberalization of Mexico’s energy market, which involves the move from subsidies that kept gas prices low to a market-based pricing scheme that will adjust prices at the pump more frequently.
The public backlash to these price increases has been swift. Critics have inveighed against President Enrique Pena Nieto, with a leftist opposition leader calling for a “peaceful revolution” that would include gas station boycotts.
Many people have said they’d hoard gasoline, buying it from stations that in many states are already dealing with supply shortages. Illegal gas sales have popped up, and protests have already taken place in some parts of the country, with more planned for January 1.
On social media, criticism has been leveled against the government officials behind the price increases. In the image below, Jose Antonio Meade, the finance ministry chief behind the move, is portrayed as a “chupasangre,” or “bloodsucker.”
José Antonio Meade un chupasangre que quiere ser presidente. Él autorizó el gasolinazo. Monero Rocha pic.twitter.com/goJnHPp056
— Gustavo Vela (@GustavoVela71) December 29, 2016
In the image below, Pena Nieto, shown in cowboy garb, orders Mexicans to put their hands up because “this is a gasolinazo.” The suffix -azo denotes a strike or blow.
While research has questioned which income class benefits the most from the gas price subsidies that have been in place, the price increases have nonetheless outraged many poor and working-class segments of the population.
The increases would mean Mexicans – about 52% of whom live in poverty – would spend more of their annual income on fuel than the residents of 59 other countries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Civil-society groups have announced plans to organize demonstrations and blockades in response to the change, and their leaders have articulated just how much of a threat the increases pose.
“We see the gasolinazo as an attack against the population, as a robbery, taking into account the levels of income of the population,” Jose Narro, director of the workers’ group Coordinadora Nacional Plan de Ayala, told Reforma.
- REUTERS/Bernardo Montoya
“We reject totally the increase of the prices and we demand that, in 48 hours, by the final minute of December 31, they have to suspend this decree through which regional maximum prices are authorized,” Alfonso Ramirez, director of El Barzón Nacional, a civil-society group focused on inequality and human rights, told Reforma.
Concamin, a major industrial trade group, has voiced concern about cost pressures and called for a “protective shield” for national industry, “owing that the industrial sector faces a lack of growth, high interest rates, and the depreciation of the peso.”
There were even reports that one of the country’s most powerful drugorganized-crime groups-the Jalisco New Generation cartel– had joined the fray.
- REUTERS/Alejandro Acosta
A WhatsApp message circulating in Jalisco state, purportedly from the CJNG, threatened gasoline stations it accuses of speculating on gas prices.
“The CJNG, in support of the working class, commits itself to making burn all the gasoline stations that to December 30 of the current year, at 10:00 p.m.” – before the price increases go into effect – “have not normalized the sale of fuel at the fair price,” the message said, according to the Mexican news outlet Aristegui Noticias.
“They are speculating in order to obtain million-dollar profits before the majority of the people who don’t make the minimum salary, we have already realized that the [shortage] of fuel is because the dealers don’t want to sell fuel until this increases their price, all our people are already ready to start the mission,” the message reads.
The Jalisco state attorney general’s office opened an investigation into the message, saying it would not tolerate attacks on gasoline stations. The attorney general announced on Friday afternoon that the message was not sent by the CJNG.
Rather, it was the work of a WhatsApp account known for sending threats supposedly related to organized crime, but many of which were in fact false, according to the Jalisco attorney general.
- REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme
While there doesn’tappearto have been any violence related to shortages, the looming price increase has galvanized new antigovernment fervor at a time when Pena Nieto’s approval ratings are already some of the lowest in recent history.
Leftist opposition leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – who appears likely to benefit from Pena Nieto’s many missteps – has put blame for the gasolinazo on the shoulders of Pena Nieto’s center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party and the conservative National Action Party, calling the former “corrupt and cynical” and the latter hypocrites.
The policy and its rollout have further diminished the perception of the Mexican president and his party, which has been a trend for some time.
“Mexicans were promised lower electricity prices, they got higher electricity prices. Mexicans were told austerity was needed, they got a congress that showers itself with bonuses,” Jan-Albert Hootsen, a Dutch journalist based in Mexico, wrote on Facebook. “Mexicans were promised more security and a fairer justice state, they got homicide rates back at the level of 2012, the Ayotzinapa massacre and its botched investigation, etc.”
“If you say one thing and are then time and time again perceived to do the exact opposite, what starts off as irritation among the public at some point will simply boil over,” Hootsen concluded.
An earlier version of this story attributed a WhatsApp message threating gas stations to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. After publication, the Jalisco state attorney general announced that it had found the message to be of another, non-cartel origin. This story has been updated throughout.