18 | MAR | 2019
Protesters are blocking roads and stations across Mexico to protest a government price deregulation that sent the price of fuel up by as much as 20 percent over the weekend. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Mexicans block roads, stations to protest gasoline hikes

02/01/2017
15:26
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Mexican government said the deregulation had long been planned, but unfortunately coincided with rising world oil prices

Small groups of protesters blockaded some roads and gasoline stations in Mexico on Monday to protest a government price deregulation that sent that sent the price of fuel up by as much as 20 percent over the weekend.

A group of protesters blockaded a privately owned gasoline station on Mexico City's main boulevard on Monday, shouting "the people, united, will never be defeated!"

On a busy highway leading into the capital from the west, another group blocked traffic and held up a banner reading "Enough already!"

Reports on social media and local newspaper sites suggested small, intermittent protests popped up at a half-dozen other sites throughout the country.

The Mexican government said the deregulation had long been planned, but unfortunately coincided with rising world oil prices. The deregulation is aimed at ending subsidies that the government says largely benefit wealthier Mexicans, and to attract interest in private participation in the newly opened fuel market

"Unfortunately, it coincided with a significant increase in international oil prices," said Miguel Messmacher, Mexico's assistant finance secretary. That, and a drop in the value of the Mexican peso against the dollar in 2016, probably would have resulted in gas price hikes last year, but the government was still setting prices back then. Mexico imports much of its gasoline, even though it exports crude oil.

"It was precisely because we were limiting these (price) movements in some ways, that gave rise to this pent-up increase," Messmacher said.

"These things always create bad feelings," Miguel Messmacher. "That is very clear, and very understandable. It is very clear to us that this is obviously an unpopular measure."

Over the weekend, when the Jan. 1 measure went into effect, protesters snarled traffic on one of the country's main north-south highways.

Gasoline supplies have begun stabilizing after some stations were left dry due to what officials described as panic buying, increased holiday demand and unforeseen shipping delays.

Monday's demonstration capped weeks of fuel problem, after an unusual spike in illegal pipeline taps drilled by fuel thieves caused some shortages in central Mexico, due to the need to repair the ducts.

Officials still haven't explained why pipelines thefts increased so dramatically in early December, but the government was forced to increase military patrols by 60 percent to combat the thefts.

Thieves are stealing about $1.4 billion worth of fuel products annually from pipelines operated by the state oil company, Pemex, according to official estimates.

The 2017 price deregulation is part of a broader energy reform passed two years ago under President Enrique Pena Nieto allowing some private investment and ending more than seven decades of state monopoly over the oil sector.

In a second phase in 2017, other companies will be also allowed to import and distribute gasoline instead of Pemex handling the entire supply chain.

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