UNREST IN MEXICO

President calls for calm, as Mexicans loot and protest over gas price hike

Army brought in to outskirts of capital to restore order, as unrest spreads throughout country

Not even the direct intervention of President Enrique Peña Nieto has been enough to calm the ongoing protests in Mexico, caused by a hike of as much as 20% in gasoline prices, and which on Wednesday saw a sharp increase in the disturbances and blockades taking place all over the country.

Un militar asegura una tienda después del saqueo, en Veracruz (México).
Un militar asegura una tienda después del saqueo, en Veracruz (México).ILSE HUESCA / AFP

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In Mexico State there were at least 250 arrests for acts of vandalism across 13 municipalities, while the stores in the historic center of the capital, where there were 64 arrests, closed their doors early in response to rumors of fresh looting.

In Ecatepec, police were forced to intervene at a store belonging to the Elektra retail chain, where looters were carrying off mattresses and television sets using the gasoline price rise as an excuse. Adding to citizens’ ire are hikes in electricity costs, the lack of supply of gasoline, growing inflation and the daily depreciation of Mexico’s currency, the peso.

Not doing this would have had a greater cost President Enrique Peña Nieto

The unrest prompted Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to make a televised appeal on Wednesday for calm, despite the wave of bad news that has been affecting the pockets of Mexicans since the start of Christmas.

“I understand the anger that this causes among the population,” said Peña Nieto in his address. “But not [raising prices] would have put the economic stability of the country at risk. It is not easy to take such a measure and I call for understanding. The adjustment in prices reflects the international price rise of gasoline. It’s a responsible measure as part of a priority issue for my government: maintaining the economic stability of the country.” He added that “not doing this would have had a greater cost.”

A tweet showing the intervention of the authorities during looting in Cuautepec.

But even as Peña Nieto spoke, trouble was flaring across the country.

Using social media, protestors and looters organized in areas stretching from Tamaulipas, on the US border, to Tapachula, next to Guatemala. Blockades of freeways, bouts of looting, gas station robberies and even assaults on state oil firm PEMEX employees were seen, all as part of protests against the 15% to 20% price hike at the gas pumps.

What’s more, a number of supermarkets on the outskirts of Mexico City were looted. And on Tuesday night, a group assaulted a Chedraui hypermarket and an OXXO convenience store. In an unusual move, the army was called in to the area to restore order.

For the fourth day in a row, a number of freeways connecting Mexico City with other states were blockaded. The scene was repeated in Veracruz, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Tabasco and Jalisco.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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