XALAPA — Protests over a sharp gasoline price hike erupted into looting of gas stations and stores in various parts of Mexico on Wednesday, with dozens of businesses reportedly sacked.
Protesters also continued to block highways, burn tires and seize gas stations, snarling traffic and jeopardizing fuel supplies across the country.
Major tourist areas like Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta have been spared major unrest, though Mexico City and surrounding area is being affected, which can be a transit hub for tourists heading to the beach.
The unrest “resulting in the theft of merchandise put at risk the lives of clients and workers in the stores, primarily in Mexico State, Michoacan, Hidalgo and Mexico City,” the statement said.
In the Gulf coast city of Veracruz, 50 establishments including convenience stores, supermarkets and big-box outlets suffered looting, according to a preliminary count by the local chamber of commerce.
Store guards were overrun by crowds who carried off clothing, food, washing machines, televisions, DVD players and refrigerators.
Extra police patrols were deployed, and at least 14 people were detained, the state government reported. At one supermarket officers fired into the air to disperse the multitudes.
Earlier in the day, President Enrique Pena Nieto took to the airwaves to defend his unpopular gasoline deregulation measure that resulted in price hikes of up to 20 per cent over the weekend.
The increases took effect as the government ends regulated prices for gasoline and diesel, which it says represented subsidies that unduly benefited wealthier Mexicans.
The state-owned oil company Pemex said Tuesday that blockades of fuel terminals in the states of Chihuahua, Morelos and Durango had caused a “critical situation” in distributing fuel to gas stations there.
It said that if the blockades continued, it could interrupt operations at airports in Chihuahua and Baja California.