‘Gasolinazo’ protests rock Mexico

Several states across Mexico have been shaken by days of angry protests in response to a jump in the price of gasoline sparked by a new deregulation policy. Protests, road blockades and civil strikes are reported from 12 states since the new policy was instated Jan. 1. Looting was reported in Hidalgo, Veracruz and México states, with over 350 stores sacked. Several federal police agents were briefly taken hostage by protesters when they tried to break up a roadblock in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo. Two protesters were killed in the Ixmiquilpan clash, while one Federal District police officer is reported dead in rioting on the outskirts of Mexico City. Police also fired in the air to scatter protesters in Ecatepec, México. Nearly 900 have been detained nationwide. (Sol de Mexico, Jan. 6; Animal Politico, Jan. 5; Apro, Jan. 4)

Authorities are said to be hunting for several people accused of hijacking a fuel tanker near Mexico City and siphoning off gasoline. State oil company Pemex called on the protesters to end the roadblocks, warning in a statement Jan. 3 that "if these blockades and aggressions continue, the supply of gasoline and diesel to the population will be seriously affected." 

Deregulation of gas prices, announced Dec. 27, is part of a larger effort by President Enrique Peña Nieto to end the state monopoly of the oil industry. The new policy also allows foreign companies to begin oil exploration in Mexico, and eventually to start importing and distributing gasoline there. The president had promised at the start of the energy sector overhaul that fuel prices would go down, not up. But the deregulation coincided with a jump in world oil prices, rising inflation, and a steep decline of the value of the peso against the dollar amid US president-elect Donald Trump's threats to pull out of NAFTA and slap taxes on imports from Mexico. The Mexican economy took another hit this week as Ford announced it is cancelling plans to build a new $1.6 billion factory in San Luis Potosi, investing $700 million in Michigan instead. Trump had called Ford's planned Mexico factory an "absolute disgrace" during the election campaign. (LAT, Reuters, Jan. 3)

Despite the recent spike, global oil prices remain depressed. An OPEC agreement to reduce production by close to 2 million bpd caused crude to jump above $50, but it failed to pass the $55 barrier as anticipated. An analysis by the Oil Price Information Service says that pressure from creditors will prevent oil producers from carrying out ambitious production cuts, keeping prices low in the coming year. (OilPrice, Jan. 5)