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Hundreds of gas stations closed, six dead in Mexican protest of “el gasolinazo”

Mexicans are protesting by the thousands, looting and even forcing the U.S. to temporarily close the border. They’re marching against huge gas price incre...

Mexicans are protesting by the thousands, looting and even forcing the U.S. to temporarily close the border.

They’re marching against huge gas price increases — dubbed “el gasolinazo” — that went into effect in early January. As part of a plan to deregulate prices and cut back on subsidies, the Mexican government raised gas prices, up to 20 percent in some locations.

The hike led to violent protests throughout the country, leaving at least six dead and 1,500 arrested. Hundreds of gas stations also closed down for fear of looting.

“What Trump is doing doesn’t shake us…El gasolinazo concerns us,” says Fernando Mejia Ortiz, a painter from Cabo San Lucas, who was visiting Mexico City with his wife Eva.

Prices were supposed to go up again on February 3, but the increase was suspended after protests and social backlash emerged. The Mexican government decided to delay the second price increase to February 18, citing the volatility in international oil prices as one of the main reasons.

In December, Ortiz used to pay 520 pesos (about $25) a week for gas. Now he pays 580 pesos.

“It can seem like a little but when you are counting it over time, you notice it,” says Ortiz, 38, who earns about 2,300 pesos ($112) a week.

Over the weekend, Mexicans continued to protest, taking to the streets in Mexico City and other towns. In the border town of Tijuana, protests got so out of hand that U.S. officials decided to temporarily close the border.

It’s an especially tough time for Mexicans, because their currency, the peso, has fallen in value to record low levels. It’s declined 11 percent since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election.

Food prices have also gone up as a result of the gas price hikes, as companies charge more to transport food and goods. Local media reported in January that food prices have increased in 17 of Mexico’s 31 states, with price of eggs going up 16 percent overnight.

Javier Ramos, a lawyer, says he is cutting back, even buying less chicken because of higher gas prices.To feed his family of five, he used to buy a 1,000 grams (over 2 lbs) of chicken. Now he’s bringing home about 750 grams (1.6 lbs) for his family of five, including his wife Claudia, daughters Angie, 8, and Zuria, 4, and son Aaron, who is 3.

“We’re more worried about el gasolinazo because it hurts our pockets right now,” says Ramos, 33, as he watched Zuria jump around a sprinkler playfully.

Ramos says it’s not that he’s not worried about Trump and what it means for Mexico’s future. He said gas prices have become a central part of the kitchen table conversation.

In addition to driving his Mazda Impreza to get to his job everyday, Ramos said he uses Uber a lot. A typical Uber ride in December cost him 80 pesos. Now Ramos says it’s 110 pesos. He’s cutting back on using the app too.

Life isn’t any easier for Uber drivers like Juan Manuel Estrada, a lifelong resident of Mexico City. He used to pay between 1,400 and 1,500 pesos a week for gas. Now gas costs him 2,200 pesos a week. Estrada, 62, and happily married with three adult kids and two grandchildren, earns about 4,000 pesos a week as an Uber driver, his only income.

“Look, right now, as a Mexican from Mexico City, the price of gasoline,” is concerning, Estrada said. “Everything is going up…going out to eat, to buy clothes, it’s more expensive.”

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