Category Archives: Latin America

Peña plunges, crime rises, woes, and a win


A summary of events south of the border. . .

Peña plunges in the polls

The digits are so low he’d envy Trump’s numbers.

From teleSUR English:

Only 12 percent of Mexicans approve of the performance of President Enrique Peña Nieto, a new poll by newspaper Reforma found Wednesday, the lowest approval rating for a Mexican president since the paper began polling in 1995. At the beginning of his term in December 2012, Peña Nieto had a 61 percent approval rating.

His approval ratings hit a record low this month following the economic crisis and accusations of corruption, human rights violations and plagiarism. Most recently, his decision to raise gas prices by 20 percent has caused deadly riots and looting across the country.

The poll also shows 27 percent of voters favor the opposition leftist Morena party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in next year’s presidential election, compared with 24 percent for the conservative National Action Party and only 17 percent for Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The discontent with the ruling party also comes with the president’s decision to ignore public opinion claims regarding issues like the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students and the mounting human rights violations during his administration.

Peña Nieto and his political allies have been plagued by corruption allegations throughout his tenure while Mexico has endured escalating rates of violence, drug trafficking and forced disappearances.

More murders, this time in Cancun

Cartel violence is claiming bodies in a favorite venue for young U.S. tourists.

From El País:

Two shootouts in two days this week that left nine people dead and at least 15 people injured have shattered the calm of Cancún, threatening the beach resort’s position as the jewel in the crown of Mexico’s tourism industry.

On Monday, a man opened fire in the Blue Parrot nightclub in nearby Playa del Carmen, which was hosting the BPM electronic music festival. Five people died, among them a Canadian, US national and an Italian, and 15 were wounded in the attack, footage of which was posted on social networks.

The following day, armed men attacked the State Attorney General’s office in Cancún, killing a policeman. Four of the attackers were gunned down and five others arrested.

Security analyst Alejandro Hope says that the incidents were a spillover from mounting tension between criminal gangs fighting for control of the drugs trade, extortion and other illegal activities in the area.

“Things have been getting worse for several months; last summer there were attacks on massage parlors and brothels, but this has made the news because the shootout took place at an international event and there were foreign victims, while the attack on the State Attorney’s office is a direct challenge to authority,” he says.

TrumpOnomics™ worries in Mexico

And it’s not the cost of the wall that’s the biggest concern.

It’s jobs.

From teleSUR English:

Concerns about the policies to be pursued by the incoming Trump administration have caused a freeze on new investment in maquiladoras on the Mexican side of the border, where thousands of workers in that industry face an uncertain future.

Case in point is Ciudad Juarez, a city across from El Paso, Texas, where the first of the maquiladoras — plants where goods are assembled for export — was installed in 1968 and the maquila industry accounts for more than 60 percent of the local economy.

Trump, who takes office Friday, has said he will impose tariffs of up to 35 percent on U.S. companies who move operations to Mexico with the idea of selling their products back to the U.S. market.

Amid pressure by Trump, Ford made a surprise announcement early this year that it would cancel plans for a US$1.6 billion plant in Mexico and instead invest that money in Michigan.

That would mark an abrupt shift away from the current climate of virtually tariff-free U.S.-Mexico trade for qualifying goods under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the president-elect says must be renegotiated.

Mass movement halts water privatization

Delightful!

And exemplary.

From teleSUR English:

A privatizing water law in the Mexican state of Baja California was repealed Tuesday following mass demonstrations against further privatization.

The state’s Governor Francisco Vega issued the decree Tuesday but would not answer press questions, only stating that the decision will benefit the people of Baja California.

The head of Infrastructure and Urban Development Edmundo Guevara, who was the main target of protests for proposing to privatize potable water services, was also in attendance.

Meanwhile, protesters are blocking state facilities in the state capital to demand the resignation of the local president and the deputies who voted in favor of the water law.

They also demanded the state eliminate the gas tax and immediately pay salaries and benefits kept from state employees.

Gasolinazo protests continue to rage in Mexico


The gasolinazo, the name Mexicans have given the the government-mandated 20 percent hike in gas prices as a result of the partial privatization of Mexico’s national oil monopoly, continues to inspire massive discontent.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration mandated the price hike. Has watched his poll numbers plummet, with only one in four Mexicans approving of his handling of the office.

And now he’s trying to cool things down.

From the Associated Press:

Mexico’s president tried again on Thursday to calm anger over the big jump in gasoline prices this month amid a historically weak currency and continued threats by Donald Trump to steer manufacturers back to the United States.

In his latest speech, the deeply unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto outlined measures that he said would help families mitigate the impact of the price hike. Yet steps like notifying more than 3 million Mexicans older than 65 that they have money in government retirement accounts seemed unlikely to dissipate the outrage that led to widespread looting in parts of the country and marches calling for his resignation.

Earlier this week, Pena Nieto promised to police price increases for staple goods and invest in modernizing public transportation. But it was difficult to see how any of that could make up for the overnight 20 percent increase in the price of gasoline when the government ended price controls.

After days of seeking ways to strike a calming chord, Pena Nieto tried taking a more relaxed posture Thursday, leaning casually on the podium, cracking jokes — and telling Mexicans to suck it up.

Protests lead to State Department warning

Just how tense the situation in Mexico has become can be judged by this travel advisory from the State Department:

The U.S. Consulate General Nogales informs U.S. citizens that large demonstrations are expected at Port of Entry DeConcini January 14-15, 2017 to protest the increase in gasoline prices.  U.S. citizens are urged to use the Mariposa Port of Entry until further notice. As always, avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.

Demonstrations in Nogales last Sunday turned violent, with police firing numerous warning shots in an attempt to turn back protesters.

Protests continue, on a reduced scale

A report from Business Insider:

Protests against the gas price hike imposed by the Mexican government at the start of this year have spread across the country, appearing in at least 28 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Many of the protests have been peaceful, but in some areas demonstrators have shut down gas stations and facilities belonging to the state oil company, Pemex.

Elsewhere, protests against the gasolinazo, as the price increase has come to be called, have boiled over into looting and violence.

In Mexico City, one police officer was killed while trying to stop looting at a department store, and elsewhere police officers joined in to ransack stores. At least six people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been arrested.

Looting seen during the first week of the year largely subsided this week, but in Tijuana, which shares the Western Hemisphere’s busiest land-border crossing with San Diego, protesters continue to block traffic and confront authorities. Since the price increase — designed to let prices float in response to supply and demand — Tijuana and Baja California state have seen some of the country’s highest prices.

One protest, a blockade in the city of Rosarita, turned violent earlier this week, with at least seven people hurt when a truck rammed the barricade.

A video via the San Diego Informer:

U.S. gas stations on the border do a booming business

While the gasolinazo had been bad for Mexican businesses, it’s proving a real boon for one kind of business on this side of the border.

From Bloomberg Markets:

Mexico’s fuel market liberalization has done something rarely seen before: make California’s pump prices look cheap.

Drivers are flooding across the border to southern California to fill up on gasoline, after protesters blocking distribution centers near the Baja California capital of Mexicali caused stations to run dry. Antunez’s Shell gas station in Calexico is just five blocks away from the Mexican border and rarely has business been as busy as now. Mexicali drivers wait four to five hours to cross into the U.S. just to fill their fuel tanks and then wait two more hours to cross back into Mexico.

>snip<

Unleaded gasoline in Mexicali was increased in January to 16.17 pesos a liter, or $2.815 a gallon. Seventeen miles north across the border in El Centro, California, pump prices jumped 5.3 cents a gallon to average $2.718 as of 5 p.m. New York time Wednesday, according to GasBuddy, a price tracking company.

“There is a very important commercial exchange happening in the border region,” said Jose Angel Garcia, the president of Mexico gasoline retailer association Onexpo. “There are trucks with large tanks being used to bring fuel into Mexico from the U.S.”

More from CSP News, a trade publication for gasoline retailers in the U.S.:

In Calexico, Calif., gas stations reported a tripling in fuel sales and waits of an hour or more for fill-ups, according to The Desert Sun. The town of 40,000 sits across the border from Mexicali, where protesters had earlier blocked the road into the central fuel distribution center, causing local gas stations to run out of fuel. Federal police cleared the blockade, but waits for fuel in Mexicali were still more than an hour that same day.

“It’s great for us,” Juan Arce, the manager of two SoCo Express gas stations in Calexico, told the newspaper. “I do feel bad for the people to the south.”

Several retailers in Calexico reported similar spikes in business. “It’s been more than double,” said Carlos Vera, manager of a Shell-branded site. On a high-volume day, the gas station typically sells 5,000 gallons of gas; the weekend of Jan. 7, it sold nearly 10,000. Its supplier has had to refill its underground storage tanks each day, Vera said.

Motorists were filling up gallon gasoline containers, empty laundry soap containers and even metal barrels to bring back into Mexico for family and friends.

Cartels add gas to their drug business

And in Mexico, there’s one organization already doing business in a highly valued commodity where the demand is great and the market is eager to buy.

So it should come as no surprise that they, too, are getting into the gasolinazo.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

The black market is booming. Several states experienced gasoline shortages at the end of last year as more thieves tapped into state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) pipelines. The pilfered fuel was sold to drivers hoping to save money. Pipeline theft in 2015 increased sevenfold, to more than 5,500 taps, from just 710 in 2010. Pemex attributes the company’s 12-year slide in crude production in part to the growth in illegal taps.

The drug cartels have turned to fuel theft as a side business worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and crime groups focused solely on gasoline robbery have sprung up, says Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Empra, a political-risk consulting firm in Mexico City. “You only need to invest $5,000 or $8,000 to buy some specific equipment, and the outcome of that is huge earnings.”

Fuel theft creates a vicious cycle: The theft increases costs for Pemex and makes the official gasoline supply more scarce, contributing to higher prices for legal consumers. Theft amounts to about $1 billion a year, says Luis Miguel Labardini, an energy consultant at Marcos y Asociados and senior adviser to Pemex’s chief financial officer in the 1990s. “If Pemex were a public company, they would be in financial trouble just because of the theft of fuel,” he says. “It’s that bad.”

And while on the subject of funny business. . .

Consider this from teleSUR English:

An anti-corruption group in Mexico revealed Tuesday that the energy minister, as well as relatives of President Enrique Peña Nieto, had financial interests in the recent gas hikes that have sparked protests across the country for the second week in a row.

Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell is a shareholder of four of the five gas stations on the Caribbean island of Cozumel in partnership with his sister and two sons.

One of the gas stations was closed down in April 2016 over alleged manipulations of prices, as the station was not providing the amount of diesel customers were paying for, Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity exposed in the official reports by Profeco, the oil watchdog in Mexico. The ruling was appealed.

The investigative paper Aristegui Noticias denounced a conflict of interests even more problematic in the context of the contested gas price hike. “Coldwell is the head of the energy sector in Mexico. As the energy minister, he could access privileged information on the oil business,” said the article.

Coldwell denied any interference in the administration of the four gas stations in an interview with the anti-corruption group, adding he will pass over his shares to a trustee in order to avoid conflicts of interests.

Gasolinazo protests swell south of the border


Protests against the gasiloinazo, the gasoline price hike mandated by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in the wake of the partial privatization of the Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex. continue to flare, with the death toll at six as authorities crack down.

We follow developments through a series of stories from teleSUR English, starting with a story on events through Sunday:

A new wave of protests against a hike in gas prices in Mexico began Sunday, as the nationwide mobilizations enter its second week and spread to at least 25 states.

Because of the protests, that are blocking highways throughout Mexico, freeways in California are being affected and some are again being closed Sunday night. The southbound 5 and 805 freeways which lead to the San Ysidro Port of Entry are being closed, according to the California Highway Patrol. Cars that are traveling to Mexico will have to go via 905 Freeway to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

On Saturday, thousands marched across 15 of 31 states in the country and the Federal District. Among the largest demonstrations were 20,000 protesters who gathered in Puebla, 5,000 in Guadalajara and 1,000 in Tapachula.

Since the protests broke out beginning on Jan. 1, clashes between police and protesters and looting have left six people dead, 1,500 arrested, 420 businesses affected and several roads blocked.

The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced in the last week of December that the price of gasoline would spike by 20 percent and diesel by 16 percent. Peña Nieto has said that the price hikes are the only option available and that the cost changes respond to international prices and are not a result of his neoliberal reforms.

Protesters take over the border

Another story highlights one of the more spectacular actions:

Chanting “Peña out,” tens of thousands of protesters are demanding the resignation of the nation’s most unpopular president in a quarter of a century.

Hundreds of protesters against a 20 percent gas hike took over the U.S. border crossing in Tijuana, letting cars pass without customs checks, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Mexico to once again demand the resignation of embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto over the so-called “gasolinazo” price hike that has hit the country’s poorest communities.

The protests were largely peaceful but police fired tear gas in Tijuana and the nearby town of Rosarito, where demonstrations were most tense, but the police repression in Tijuana was not enough to stop the action, which targetted El Chaparral, the border crossing into California, according to Radio Zapote.

The biggest actions took place in the country’s three main cities: Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara, but mass rallies have also been registered in the central states of Puebla, Queretaro, Morelos as well as the northern territories of Chihuahua and Baja California.

Chanting “Peña out,” many of the protesters gathered in the cities main boulevards. In Mexico City, people marched from the iconic Independence monument toward the main Zocalo square.

In Rosarito, Baja California, police beat and kicked protesters, tweeted reporter Andrea Noel.

A church calls for moderation

The subject of the third story:

In response to the unrest, the Episcopal Church has called on the government, legislators and political parties to “reconsider” the gasolinazo and resolve the conflict “intelligently and creatively.”

In a conference held Monday, the Secretary-General of the Mexican Episcopal Church, Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, warned the government that “the disposition to build peace and the common good is the best way to strengthen our unity.”

The National Commission of Human Rights, CNDH, echoed the sentiments of the church, arguing economic security should not come at the cost of social security.

In the communique, released Monday, the CDNH said “the economic stability of the country is important but not at the cost of social security.”

While criticizing the “looting” and “vandalism,” the group defended the demonstrators right to “freedom of expression and social protest.”

The human rights organization ended its statement, calling upon Nieto’s government to “design and implement measures to control spending that will effectively combat corruption and impunity … without directly affecting the economy of the people and their families.”

Meanwhile, social organization Somos Mas filed a complaint Tuesday with the attorney general’s office, accusing those responsible for the gasolinazo of “committing illicit acts that threaten the Mexican people.”

And the economy suffers as inflation rises

With the gasolinazo certain to make things worseAnd fourth and final story, posted today:

Mexico’s December annual inflation rose at the fastest pace in two years, data showed on Monday, boosting chances the central bank will raise interest rates again at a time when prices are expected to be further fanned by a hike in fuel costs.

Consumer prices rose 3.36 percent from December 2015, national statistics agency INEGI said on Monday, the highest rate since December 2014, and above the central bank’s 3 percent target.

The figure was below the 3.4 percent analysts forecast in a Reuters poll but up from 3.31 percent in November.

Consumer prices should rise faster after a double-digit hike in gasoline prices went into effect this month, some analysts said. The increase has spurred protests and blockades throughout the country.

“We expect a much more accentuated rise in January,” CitiBanamex said in a note, citing energy prices and a weak peso. The bank said inflation would surge beyond 4.6 percent on an annual basis.

Chart of the day: Immigration partisan divides


From the Pew Research Center:

blog-chart

Mexican gas hike leads to riots, looting, and death


They call it the gasolinazo, a neologism we could loosely translate as petro punch, the shock of high prices for gasoline just mandated in Mexico as the result of the partial privatization of Pemex, the national oil company.

Soaring prices at the pump have led to protests, riots, looting, violence, and death, exemplified in this raw footage from RT showing supermarket looting in Verz Cruz:

RAW: Mob loots supermarket in Veracruz as protests against fuel price hike erupt across Mexico

Program notes:

Looting erupted in Veracruz and in other major Mexican cities, Wednesday, amid nationwide protests over a 20 percent rise in fuel prices.

Locals could be seen dismantling walling at Chedraui supermarket in the east coast city, breaking into the building and removing produce. Marines arrived on scene in a bid to curb the ransacking of the site.

More from teleSUR English:

The wave of looting and blockades over a double-digit hike in gasoline prices in Mexico has left one police officer dead and at least 250 people arrested as protests continue across the country.

At least 23 stores were ransacked and 27 blockades put up Wednesday in Mexico City alone, officials said, while the retailers’ association Antad has urged authorities to intervene quickly, saying 79 stores had been looted and 170 forcibly closed due to blockades.

In a failed attempt to calm the widespread anger, President Enrique Peña Nieto told Mexicans Wednesday that he shared their pain over the fuel price hike that went into effect Sunday, but declared that the alternative would have been even greater costs and more suffering for the country.

Still, Peña Nieto has promised that fuel prices would eventually decrease due to his 2014 energy reform that ended nearly seven decades of sovereign control over energy resources by the state-run oil company Pemex, breaking up its monopoly.

Protesters argue that the government’s decision to raise fuel prices by up to 20 percent has no justification in an oil-rich country. However, the government insists that the move is in line with international prices and is not a result of the government’s neoliberal reforms.

Meanwhile, Pemex has denounced blockades on roads that give access to fuel storage terminals and has warned that if the situation continues, it could trigger a crisis of shortages and aggravate the problem.

Pemex also asked angry citizens to avoid any further violent actions, which have already damaged stations and harmed pipeline workers in recent days. Dozens of terminals across the country have decided to cease operations in fear of possible risks presented by the unfolding movement.

Mexican gasoline price hike spurs anger, protests


Under neoliberal President Enrique Peña Nieto, just as north of the border, the rich have been getting richer, and once public assets have been auctioned off to the highest corporate bidders.

But now the consequences of one such sell-off of the commons has resulted in an outbreak of rage across the country.

And even one of Mexico’s drug cartels is threatening on the side of the public, threatening a wave of arsons.

From teleSUR English:

The people of Mexico are entering the New Year in a state of rage and anxiety, with protests planned for Sunday to strongly denounce the government’s huge hike in gasoline prices. The strong rise in prices has been called the “gasolinazo” in Spanish, which roughly translates to “gasoline-punch.”

Unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto has promised that fuel prices will fall thanks to his neoliberal 2014 energy reforms, which dismantled the seven-decade-old national ownership of petroleum resources by state-owned firm Pemex.

The government plans to end subsidies and let the market dictate prices in March, but the already-strained Mexican people will feel the pinch at the pump before they start falling.

The finance ministry announced Tuesday that the price of gasoline would increase by as much as 20.1 percent to 88 cents per liter on Jan. 1, while diesel would rise by 16.5 percent to 83 cents.

The price ceiling will be adjusted daily starting Feb. 18, before letting supply and demand determine them in March.

Around 100 protestors blocked a service station in the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco on Friday, while on Saturday an assembly of popular organizations in Chihuahua state’s capital pledged to block all commercial transportation from entering or exiting the city as a means toward paralyzing the economy and pressuring the federal government to reverse the hikes. The assembly of people’s organizations also announced their intention to block major highways and railways in response to what they see as a neoliberal looting of Mexico and handover of its resources to private capital, according to a statement.

Meanwhile, Jalisco authorities are investigating reports that the country’s powerful Jalisco New Generation cartel has entered the fray, threatening to torch gas stations in response to the price hikes.

“They are speculating in order to obtain million dollar profits from the majority of the people who don’t make even a minimum wage … we have already realized that the (shortage) of fuel is because dealers don’t want to sell fuel unless they can do so at a profit, all of our people are now ready to start the mission,” the cartel stated in a WhatsApp message circulating in Jalisco.

A protest is planned in the capital on Sunday while Mexicans were urged on social media to block service stations on Monday. People were also encouraged to boycott fuel for three days.

Social media survey reveals Latin American hunger


And now for a story incorporating elements of our last two posts, media and health.

It’s a story about the failure of governments to ensure which should be the prime directive: the health and well-being of their citizens.

From El País:

Some 57% of people in Latin America who use social media did not have enough to eat either “occasionally or often” during the last 12 months, a new study conducted for EL PAÍS in conjunction with the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean of the Inter-American Development Bank has revealed.

In addition, 51% of users of social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube did not have running water in their homes, the study of the technological habits of more than 20,000 people in 18 countries in Latin America shows.

Latin America has experienced an economic bonanza in the last decade, with the high prices of natural resources driving growth, and this has led to a slight reduction in poverty. However, 28% of people in the region still live in extreme poverty according to the latest figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

But during the same period, the number of people using the internet jumped from 17% in 2005 to 53% in 2015.