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  • A protest is planned in the capital while Mexicans are being urged on social media to block service stations.

    A protest is planned in the capital while Mexicans are being urged on social media to block service stations. | Photo: Reuters / Twitter @ManueLopezMascareñas

Published 31 December 2016

Popular assemblies, social media, politicians and even drug cartels are reacting with rage to the neoliberal "gasolinazo" of President Peña Nieto.

Despite the holiday season and entertaining stories about Rubi's quinceñera, 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.

Mexico Set to Raise Gas Prices By 20% in January

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.

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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.

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Before the price announcement, fuel shortages had already angered Mexicans in several states.

"The fuel price increase causes outrage. People are right: it's not fair. I support each family, I share their outrage and anger," Aristoteles Sandoval, the governor of western Jalisco state, wrote on Twitter.

Sandoval's criticism drew particular attention because he is a member of Peña Nieto's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI. Furious opposition governors plan to meet with federal government officials next week to discuss the price hike.

"We just had a security meeting (between governors and Peña Nieto) days ago and there was not one comment about this situation," said Mexico City's Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, a member of the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD.

The protests are the latest expression of widespread antipathy toward Peña Nieto, whose popularity has plummeted below 25 percent this year due to his government's widespread perception of collusion with cartels and failure to address drug-related violence, disappointing economic growth, violent repression of social movements and his unpopular decision to host Donald Trump before the anti-immigrant Republican won the U.S. presidential election.

Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade defended the fuel price increase, saying it would not trigger more inflation and that eventually the "final price for consumers will be among the most competitive in the world."

The fall in global oil prices in recent years has forced the government to cut its budget and slash spending at Pemex.

And the peso has fallen to historic lows due to Trump's protectionist rhetoric against Mexico.

In Mexico City, service station worker Maria de la Luz Lopez worried that the price increases could hurt her.

"I'm afraid that to compensate for the increase, (customers) will no longer give us tips," said Lopez who, like many in her field, does not earn a wage and depends on the generosity of drivers.

"Put your hands up! This is a gasolinazo!"

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