Chetumal in Protests Over Fuel Hike; How Will it Affect Belize?
The New Year has been greeted with protests in Mexico against a government price deregulation that sent the price of fuel there up by as much as twenty percent over the weekend. The Mexican government said the deregulation had long been planned, but unfortunately coincided with rising world oil prices. While prices are still relatively cheaper than in Belize, Mexican nationals are up in arms that the price hike affects their standard of living. There are also effects for Belize, as bus companies that have taken advantage of the cheaper fuel prices over the border may now think twice. But the greatest concern at the moment is whether Mexico is safe for travellers. By the thousands Belizeans cross the northern border looking for goods and services at better prices. In neighbouring, Chetumal popular stores such as Walmart, Chedraui and Aurera Bodega have been looted. Police are at this time preparing for further violence tonight as nationals stack up supplies to keep out of harm’s way. Aaron Humes and Jorge Tabora have been following the story and have this report.
On Thursday night coming into Friday, Chetumal, capital of the neighboring state of Quintana Roo, according to the website sipse.com, was wracked by looting of stores and gas stations by protesting citizens. Elsewhere there was blocking of roads as Mexicans protested the sudden arrival of a de-regulated fuel industry, promised by their president, Enrique Pena Nieto, two years ago. The deregulation is aimed at ending subsidies that the government says largely benefit wealthier Mexicans and at attracting interest in private participation in the newly opened fuel market. But protesters, who say their standard of living will be greatly changed, are planning a second night on the streets, according to Belizean living in Mexico, Jorge Tabora.
Francisco Sanchez, Mexican National
“The situation is critical not only for the workers but also for the store owners. This is vandalism. This is not what we expected. It’s no longer fighting against the government. It’s a festive day and it’s sad that we cannot do what we usually do each year with the children. We need to be more careful when we go out since it’s my understanding that worse things will happen starting tomorrow Saturday.”
It is well-known that local bus drivers, especially in the North, have been buying their fuel in Mexico instead of Belize because of higher taxes here. That may continue, as according to the Embassy there are no restrictions on doing so and prices for premium fuel remain at least two dollars cheaper than Belize’s prices. But could there be potential impacts for the sole Mexican operator in Belize, ADO? This afternoon, their local agent told us that one of the buses returning to Belize was stopped at the Northern Border and at last report was expected to reach late, and he is awaiting details as to the schedule for the coming days. However, he said that he did not expect ticket prices to go up due to higher fuel costs. Tabora shares the view from other Mexican residents.
“What has happened is that the price of gasoline has gone up. This is why all these problems are taking place. It’s not peaceful right now. There is too much vandalism. This is what has us very concerned right now.”
While Ambassador of Mexico to Belize Carlos Quesnel Melendez is back in his native country attending a diplomatic conference, information from the embassy here is that according to latest reports, the tension is cooled down and the protests have been contained, so that it is now safe to travel to Mexico. But the usual precautions apply, including keeping careful watch on one’s surroundings. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
With regard to the fuel price situation and a Mexico and Belize comparison, according to the Ministry of Finance, almost four of every ten dollars paid at the pumps goes to taxes for the Government, a rise of ten percent from the previous July. At the start of 2016, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced a rise in import duties on fuel to combat a fifty-million-dollar revenue shortfall particularly and ironically coming from ever-reducing earnings from locally produced crude oil. It resulted in wild shifting of prices between January and July as the economy adjusted. And in an update to this story, at news time, ADO Belize City agent Fakhrul Amin informed that the second ADO bus was released by border authorities and arrived at five-thirty in the evening, and that tonight’s schedule from Belize City to the northern border, proceeding on to Merida and Cancun, is per normal with two buses. Again, there are no expected price increases for tickets.