Gasolinazo: Gas crisis in Mexico crosses the border

A PEMEX gas station sits empty in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico after repercussions from the gasolinazo on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. (Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News)

Angela Ayala Gonzalez, like many other residents in San Luis, Sonora, and Nogales, Sonora, is struggling even more to make ends meet in Mexico after a 20 percent increase in gas prices following a decision to eliminate state oil subsidies by the Mexican government.

Gas stations across the Mexico border have shut down their pumps in reaction to the gasolinazo, or gasoline blow as it is being called. The increase in gas prices sparked major protests across the border towns, including San Luis Rio Colorado and Nogales.

A PEMEX gas station sits empty in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico after repercussions from the gasolinazo on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. (Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News)

President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a message to the nation that the rise in fuel prices is a result of the rise in international prices and that it is “a difficult change” but necessary to guarantee economic stability. However, during Nieto’s 2015 New Year speech, Nieto promised there would be “…. no monthly increases in gasoline, diesel and LP gas prices.” Residents in San Luis and Nogales, however, have witnessed the opposite.

According to an order of gas purchase made by Pemex Industrial Transformation in July 2016, about 62 percent of the gas used in Mexico was imported, making it harder for the government to reduce the prices.  

“It’s bad,” said Agustin Macias, a gas station worker in San Luis Rio Colorado. “Instead of helping us, they are making us suffer. Especially people like me that only earn minimum wage. It doesn’t benefit us at all.”

Macias said once the gas prices rose, people began purchasing gas before it got even more expensive. Now, according to Macias, the work and sales have declined at his station.

“Less people are coming to pump gas,” Macias said. “Every single gas station in San Luis ran out of gas.”

Macias said this is putting a huge strain on the gas businesses in San Luis Rio Colorado.

“No one is winning,” he said. “They are not benefitting from anything, even if they price is high, the owners still have to pay more for gas.”

The poverty rate in Mexico is currently 45.5 percent, with the minimum wage between $70-$100 pesos per day, or $3 to $5. With higher gas prices, families are finding themselves struggling even more than they were before.

Angela Ayala Gonzalez, who has been a gas dispatcher in San Luis for nine years, said the price of gasoline is affecting her tremendously.

“As a worker, it effects me,” Gonzalez said. “As a citizen, as a mother, as everything it effects me just as anyone else and we just can’t find the way out. This is something we need every day.”

Gonzalez said while she is paying more to fill up her tank, she is still making minimum wage, making it tougher for her to pay her bills.

Ricardo Lopez sits in front of his business at Tianguis Canoa in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Lopez crosses the United States border to purchase items to sell in Mexico.

When San Luis Rio Colorado ran out of gas, Marco Antonio Aranza Berrelleza, a San Luis resident, found someone who could cross the border for him so he could get gas. Berrelleza explained those who cross the border and come back into Mexico with gas to sell, charge it at a higher price to make a profit.  

“I had to buy it from the neighbors [USA] at a higher price, but I needed it, so I had to buy it at any price,” Berrelleza said. 

If San Luis Rio Colorado runs out of gas again, Berrelleza said he will continue to fill up in the United States.

“I think people who can’t cross or can’t get gas from other places have the hardest time because they need it to go anywhere like to school, hospital, anywhere,” Berrelleza said.

But, according to Ricardo Lopez, a small business owner at Tianguis Canoa, it shouldn’t be that way because it’s only affecting them more as a country. 

“We are supposed to be consuming in our country, not somewhere else so that we can better our economy,” Lopez said.

Sergio Castillo, an employee at Super C gas station in San Luis, Arizona, saw firsthand how the gasolinazo changed gas businesses in the United States.

Chaotic days at Super C meant too many people crossing the border into the United States to fill up, according to Castillo.

“We had more sales because we had more gas consumption,” Castillo said.  “If we calculate everything, pumping gas in Mexico would cost 50 pesos more than it would here.”

People from Sonora, Mexico line up at a gas station in Nogales, Arizona to fill up on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Similar to San Luis, Arizona, gas stations in Nogales, Arizona are experiencing an influx of people crossing the border to purchase gas in the U.S. (Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News)

The border community of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora — known as Ambos Nogales — also feel the pinch. On Jan. 8, the DeConcini Port of Entry was closed for an afternoon after the gasolinazo protests erupted, leading to Mexican police firing shots into the air.

At least 10,000 people protested against the gasolinazo across Sonora. Although looting did not happen in Sonora, the Asociación Nacional de Tiendas de autoservicio y Departamentales recorded at least 250 looting incidents across the country on the fifth day of protests.

A ‘No Gasolinazo” bumper sticker is displayed on a semi truck in Nogales, Arizona on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. (Photo by Mar Ruiz / Arizona Sonora News)

Border towns have seen a greater impact with the gasolinazo since their gas prices were the same with their border cities back in December 2016. Almost all gas stations in San Luis Rio Colorado closed days after the gasolinazo happened and at least one station has closed in Nogales.

Rosa Morales, administrative assistant at the only gas station closed in Nogales, said there was an 80 percent sales decline because customers crossed the border to buy gas. Their short-term closing could potentially become long-term.

“(President Peña Nieto) should take into consideration that every station is a job source, and if one closes and then more start closing, more jobs come to an end, too,” Morales said.

Rumors supporting a gas price decline arose days after protests took place around the country. Morales said they were all false and they were meant to maintain peace in the community.    

“Uncertainty is only used to stop protests, but as far as the gas companies, we haven’t received any words of encouragement,” Morales said.

Candelario Figueroa pumps gas in Nogales, Arizona before returning to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. (Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News)

According to Proyecto Puente, Sonora will amplify its gas industry by allowing at least 20 new companies to join the commerce. Some of the companies include Chevron, Shell and local businesses.   

The entrance could lower gas prices in Mexico because it’s expected to bring competition to the market. 

But Candelario Figueroa, a Mexican merchant who travels to the U.S. every 15 days, doubts the competition from outside companies will substantially benefit people and lower prices.

“The Mexican government … it’s hard, really hard,” Figueroa said. “The governors … only think about themselves.”

Mar Ruiz and Amanda Oien are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact them at and 


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