Friday, January 13, 2017

Global Beta Test: Mexico



NYTimes |   Mr. Peña Nieto’s efforts have been handicapped, analysts say, by a seeming disconnect from the public mood.

The government looked unprepared for the violent responses to the price increases, which took effect on New Year’s Day, when most officials were on vacation. Mr. Peña Nieto himself was in the middle of a golfing trip. And as bloody unrest swept across the country, the president kept silent, finally making a public statement on the issue on Wednesday.

Even then, his comments were buried in a news conference focused on cabinet changes that included the return of Luis Videgaray, a close confidant who resigned under pressure as finance minister in September after championing an unpopular visit by Mr. Trump to Mexico.

The administration’s detached response to the upheaval contributed to the impression of a president out of touch with the population, analysts said, and gave a sense of a leadership that is adrift, blindsided by events.

The gas price increases of about 20 percent are part of a broad overhaul that ends the state’s monopoly over the energy industry. The government has long controlled and subsidized gasoline prices, but by the end of the year it will allow gas prices to fluctuate according to the market, a move intended to attract foreign investment to compete with the state oil company, Pemex.

The government has argued that ending fuel subsidies will help the country avoid spending cuts to social programs, and that the subsidies have disproportionately benefited wealthier Mexicans who own cars. But many fear that higher gasoline prices will increase costs for food and public transportation, hitting the pocketbooks of even the poorest Mexicans.

Though Mexico’s opposition parties are now condemning the price increase, most of them voted for it as part of the budget approved in October. But Mexico imports more than half of its gasoline from the United States, and Mr. Trump’s election sent the peso to a historic low, raising the price of imported gasoline in pesos greater than anybody expected.

Analysts said the government could have forestalled the fallout by designing measures that would have softened the blow for poorer Mexicans, or by creating subsidies for truck drivers or owners of older vehicles.

“They didn’t think about it,” said Vidal Romero, a political analyst at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “There is no compensation for citizens.”