A not so minor but peaceful rebellion is brooding in the nation against the fuel price increases the President Enrique Peña Nieto administration slapped on the population on Sunday, the first day of the 2017.
In a large number of cities, people who offer services such as taxi drivers and merchandise carriers have gone out on the streets to regularly protest the hike on premium and diesel, many with signs demanding that the increases be rebuked.
That, however, is not bound to happen, as several deputies belonging to the president’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stated that the decision to increase, as well as the future liberation of fuel prices under government control, are here to stay.
Sunday what looked like a humongous protest showed signs that the decision, regardless of what government officials claim to defend, is going to grow rapidly. As a preview, a group of transport workers (truckers and taxi drivers) blocked in protest the Mexico City-Querétaro super highway creating an enormous jam as several hundred thousand vacationers was returning home to Mexico City.
There were minor protests in at least 10 cities Sunday including, of course, Mexico City.
President Peña Nieto was conspicuously “invisible,” as he used his Twitter account to send a Happy New Year message to the people of Mexico, as well as to congratulate the new governor of the state of Sinaloa for being sworn in.
People on the web were highly unsatisfied with the president’s lack of explanation for increasing fuel prices and the fact that part of that increase is a new tax.
On the web itself, just to figure out the shape of things to come to a politically effervescent Mexican population after the increases were announced last Thursday, www.change.org announced opening up an account to protest the government’s moves. By Saturday, the site had piled up over 20,000 signatures and Sunday evening it was close to 50,000, and getting constant hits.
On the political field, leaders of at least three parties lashed out against the president’s move. Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party (PAN) went on television to accuse Peña Nieto of lying to the people and declaring the fuel hike a scam.
Alejandra Barrales of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) did the same thing, scolding the president for this “wrong doing” and for being insensitive to the needs of poor people of Mexico.
Presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) repeated his eternal attack on PRI, calling its members thieves and liars and claiming that this hike was no more than the proof of the pudding of a political party that has sacked the nation’s economy at will. López Obrador looked very happy on TV, because he knows that by doing this, he is turning people against the president and the PRI for future elections.
At the Chamber of Deputies, PRD leader Jesús Zambrano called for a “peaceful revolution” to protest a move that the administration is going to have a great deal of trouble defending.
Treasury and Public Finance Secretary (SHCP) José Antonio Meade Kuribreña defended the economic move made by the Peña Nieto administration, claiming the government can no longer “subsidize” fuel and that much of the money that should have been spent on idealistic social causes went to subsidize fuels.
“Over the past few years we spent almost seven gross domestic product points in sustaining the price of gasoline low. That means that those seven points don’t show up in alleviating public debt and they are not in infrastructure. This said, anyone who favors keeping the price of gasoline artificially low is talking about us using the oil wealth in a subsidy of current account through keeping a price we have no control over.”
Needless to say that Meade Kuribreña — seen as the mastermind behind the increase — is defending the official policy in a move that goes very much against Peña Nieto’s promise four years ago of lower energy prices for all people.
A most unusual reaction came from the leader of the Mexican Association of Fuel Station Entrepreneurs (Amegas) Pablo González Córdova who says the administration made a mistake in “trying to accelerate the timing of the energy reforms to consolidate it, as the president pointed out on January 1, 2015. Now, two years later, we start the year with a 20 percent increase in the prices of gasoline. This is tantamount to saying that the energy reform failed as the law says that the ceiling increases will be according to inflation, as stipulated by Mexico’s Central Bank, and now we are facing a 20 percent increase … this is a blow that’s going to hurt all Mexicans.”
The question now is not what’s going to happen, but how the Peña Nieto administration is going to react to the clearly brooding protest.