Mexico Gas Price Hike Sparks Protests, Looting, Violence

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO - A 20 percent gas price hike has sparked anger across Mexico this week leading to protests, highway blockades and looting of stores in some regions. Protesters briefly stopped traffic on a busy international bridge linking El Paso and Juarez."There's a public uprising," said Pablo Olvera, a motorist at a gas station in Ciudad Juarez. The usually busy Pemex station was empty and eerily quiet."I don't have enough to fill up," said Olvera, a preacher and married father of two children. He handed the attendant $100 pesos, the equivalent of $4.71 in dollars. Some gas stations ran out of fuel because protesters blocked highways preventing tanker trucks from reaching their destinations.Riots left at least four dead and police arrested hundreds, according to Mexican authorities. The gas price hike took effect with the new year as Mexico deregulated an energy sector dominated by the government oil monopoly Pemex. The move included cutting subsides as Mexico opens its energy sector to private investment. The government said prices will go down as competition increases.The hike raised the average price for a liter of premium gasoline to 17.79 pesos, or about 90 cents. That makes 4 liters, or about a gallon, equal to nearly as much as Mexico's just raised minimum wage for a day's work of 80 pesos, or about $4.President Enrique Peña Nieto in a national televised address vowed he would proceed with the plan despite public outrage. "I know that allowing gasoline to rise to its international price is a difficult change, but as president my job is precisely to make difficult decisions now, in order to avoid worse consequences in the future."But many Mexican families are feeling the consequences now. "People are threatening to loot the S-Mart grocery store," said Raul Soledad, 50, a father of two.Soledad said he left a job as a factory worker at a U.S. manufacturing plant that made harnesses for automobiles four years ago because he couldn't afford to support his wife and two children.He said he earned 700 pesos, the equivalent of $33 a week at the current exchange rate. He drives a taxi now but could only scrape together enough to buy quarter of a tank of gas after the price went up.And Mexico's currency plunged to a record low of more than 21 pesos to the dollar after Ford announced earlier this week it would stop construction on a new manufacturing plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico that was set to create 3,600 new jobs. President-elect Trump took credit for the decision.Trump is now questioning Toyota's plan to move production of Corollas to Mexico. He threatened to slap a 35 percent tariff on vehicles made in Mexico and exported to the U.S.Many challenges The loss of manufacturing jobs is just one of the hurdles President Peña Nieto faces as Trump promises to renegotiate NAFTA and build a wall along the border."Now things are bad on both sides of the border," said Alejandra Magallanes, 24, a student who works part time as a gas station attendant. "We have nowhere to run."Her young nephews in Saltillo postponed a visit to the border because of the highway blockades that disrupted bus routes including international travel."The people are getting crazy. They are a stealing gas (from tanker trucks.) They are burning the cars," said Lillian Quiñonez, 24, a U.S. sales representative for a meat company based in Chihuahua City."It took seven hours to come to El Paso from Chihuahua when it usually takes three hours and a half to come here. The highways are really crazy right now. The gas stations are really crazy," she said Quiñonez.Turning to TexasQuiñonez and other motorists from Mexico are filling up in Texas to avoid long lines at the pump and the threat of violence in Mexico.The 20 percent gas price and comes at the expense of staples like rice, beans and tortillas also rises."It's tightening the noose around the peoples' neck" said Olvera, a former Juarez police officer turned preacher. He was supposed to drive to Hermosillo to give a sermon but now will fly instead to avoid high gas prices and roadblocks.Olvera said he'll tell the faithful, "Keep praying and asking God for good leaders to govern us. They haven't arrived yet but we pray to God they will soon."  Continue reading...

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