Mexico president tries again to calm anger over gas hike

By Christopher Sherman, Associated Press

Mexico's president tried again on Thursday to calm anger over the big jump in gasoline prices this month amid a historically weak currency and continued threats by Donald Trump to steer manufacturers back to the United States.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto listens during an event announcing an accord meant to strengthen the national economy and keep down household costs, in Mexico City, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. Facing nationwide protests following a 20% gas price hike, the president brought together business and labor leaders to discuss programs which could soften the blow. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's president tried again on Thursday to calm anger over the big jump in gasoline prices this month amid a historically weak currency and continued threats by Donald Trump to steer manufacturers back to the United States.

In his latest speech, the deeply unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto outlined measures that he said would help families mitigate the impact of the price hike. Yet steps like notifying more than 3 million Mexicans older than 65 that they have money in government retirement accounts seemed unlikely to dissipate the outrage that led to widespread looting in parts of the country and marches calling for his resignation.

Earlier this week, Pena Nieto promised to police price increases for staple goods and invest in modernizing public transportation. But it was difficult to see how any of that could make up for the overnight 20 percent increase in the price of gasoline when the government ended price controls.

After days of seeking ways to strike a calming chord, Pena Nieto tried taking a more relaxed posture Thursday, leaning casually on the podium, cracking jokes — and telling Mexicans to suck it up.

"It is a difficult step that we have to adapt to," he said.

He spoke a day after the peso fell below 22 to the dollar as the U.S. president-elect again promised to make Mexico pay for a new border wall. The interbank rate strengthened some Thursday to close at 21.70 to the dollar, but retail customers were still paying 22 pesos per dollar at exchange houses.

Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya, head of the state-owned oil company Pemex, said Thursday that the previous system of having the government set the price for gasoline across Mexico made it unattractive to bring more gas to various parts of the country and to invest in infrastructure such as fuel pipelines to move fuel. He noted that most of Mexico's gasoline is still transported by tanker trucks, a far more costly alternative.

Pena Nieto said that he had heard many times that eliminating the gasoline subsidies would happen only when the government had no other alternative or when there was no more oil. He pointed out that Mexico is producing far less oil than it used to.

"In a way both things coincided," he said.

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