Protests and looting fuelled by anger over petrol price hikes in Mexico have led to four deaths, the ransacking of at least 300 stores and the arrests of more than 700 people, officials said.
The country’s business chambers said the combination of highway, port and terminal blockades and looting this week forced many stores and businesses to close and threatened supplies of basic goods and fuel. The scenes of mass lootings came as parents faced the last shopping day to get presents for their children before yesterday’s Epiphany or Three Kings Day holiday.
Two people were found dead amid looting in the port city of Veracruz but an official with the state prosecutor said that the killers had not yet been identified.
Earlier, officials said a bystander was run over and killed by a driver fleeing police also in Veracruz, and a police officer was killed trying to stop robberies at a gas station in Mexico City.
Mexicans were enraged by the 20 per cent fuel price hike announced over the weekend as part of a government deregulation of the energy sector.
While acknowledging the anger, president Enrique Pena Nieto said he would forge ahead anyway with the deregulated price scheme, which would do away with fuel subsidies and allow petrol prices to be determined by prevailing international prices.
“I know that allowing gasoline to rise to its international price is a difficult change, but as president, my job is to precisely make difficult decisions now, in order to avoid worse consequences in the future,” Pena Nieto said in a televised address. “Keeping gas prices artificially low would mean taking money away from the poorest Mexicans, and giving it to those who have the most.”
Pena Nieto said the other big challenge for Mexico in 2017 was to “build a positive relationship with the new US administration,” something he said would be done with Mexico’s “unbreakable dignity.”
While looting calmed a little on Thursday, protesters blocked highways at about two dozen places. For much of the week, protesters have blockaded petrol stations and some people have broken into stores to take merchandise.
Police in Mexico’s capital said they had arrested 76 people for looting about 29 stores. In Mexico State 529 people had been detained. Four state police officers were fired and detained after they were caught on video taking some looted items.