The Zócalo is the main square of Mexico City. From the Mexican Independence Day celebration, to the massive gatherings during Holy Week, to the colossal concerts held by world megastars like Shakira and Justin Bieber, the Zócalo operates as the center of the Mexican universe. On any given day, the thousands of Mexico City’s citizens can be seen at the Zócalo conversing, laughing, and shopping.

January 1 was not any given day. Shortly before noon, thousands of protesters, equipped with Mexican flags, megaphones, and placards that read “Fuera Peña” flooded the plaza. They marched at least three circles around the Zócalo and proceeded the National Palace to hold a large rally. The protests continued have continued almost daily since then.

These demonstrations have been part of a larger series of protests across Mexico against President Enrique Peña Nieto’s rollback in fuel subsidies, which caused an overnight gas price increase by 20% at the beginning of the year. While Peña has argued that gas prices will eventually fall, it is unlikely that Mexican vehicle owners will find relief in the months ahead. This price increase, dubbed by Mexicans as the “gasolinazo” (the word is a Spanish portmanteau of “gasolina” and “chingazo,” a crude slang term for a “hard strike”). The price hikes are so severe that from Matamoros to Tijuana, many Mexican drivers are crossing into the United States to fuel their tanks – a process that can take all day.

Beyond the bounds of the Zócalo, Mexico’s outrage and frustration over the gasolinazo has manifested in highway blockades and mass lootings, with the violence peaking just as Mexico’s celebration of The Epiphany began on January 6. The annual religious celebrations were overshadowed by the tear gas, as clashes between protesters and the police have gotten increasingly violent.

However, the protests represent more than anger over gas prices hikes—they are the reaction against the failures of President Peña Nieto and the bemoaning of Mexico’s current economic and political situation. The rise of Donald Trump has had pernicious effects on Mexican peso, whose value dropped by 8 percent overnight following his upset victory. In the nascent days of his administration, Mexico faces fears over Trump’s promise of mass deportations, his pressuring of automakers to move factories back to the United States, and of course, his keystone campaign pledge: to build a wall across the border which Mexico must pay for. Many Mexicans believe Peña Nieto has been weak in his dealing with Trump. Peña Nieto’s failure to stand his ground has not been the best political move, given that Trump has a 2 percent favorability rating in Mexico. Following Trump’s widely-criticized visit in August of last year, many Mexicans were outraged at Peña Nieto’s gentle demeanor.

As Mexico grows suspicious of its northern neighbor, drug violence continues to wreak havoc on many smaller communities throughout the nation. The Mexican Drug War operates in an eerily similar way to the War on Terror, except with less strategy. The United States funnels money ($1.6 billion as of November 2016) via the ongoing Merida Initiative to Mexican law enforcement agencies. These same agencies often maintain covert connections to the cartels. Even on the micro-level, drugs travel through security checkpoints throughout Mexico due to bribes given to individual officers. The Mexican Drug War completed its tenth year in 2016, and while violence did dip earlier in the decade, the homicide rate has risen the past two years. The shootings at Playa del Carmen and Cancun last week exacerbate fears that drug violence is spreading. Combine this with the high-profile disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa in late 2014, and one can easily understand why Mexican citizens would be feeling such discontent towards their government as the new year begins. As a result of the government’s failed anti-drug policy, corruption, neglect of human rights, and arguably avoidable rise in gas prices, the Mexican people have come forward demanding change.

So what does this mean for the remaining two years of Peña Nieto’s presidency? Historic unpopularity. A poll by the Mexican publication Reforma put his approval rating at a toxic 12 percent. This number puts Peña Nieto more than 20 percentage points below Donald Trump’s popularity in the United States. This unpopularity spills over to his centrist and historically dominant political party. In fact, only 17 percent of Mexicans plan to support the PRI in the 2018 elections. The party’s plurality in the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, and the Mexican state governorships is at risk.

For many Mexicans, the gasolinazo represents another burden on the working people for the benefit of the few. The advent of social media has given millions of Mexican people a platform to voice their frustrations. Twitter is full of tweets documenting the protest, under hashtags like #FueraPeña and #NoAlGasolinazo. Taking advantage of the discontent, Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has promoted the filing of amparos, or legal appeals to exempt individuals from the rise in gas prices. Conservative presidential hopeful Margarita Zavala has taken to Twitter to say that “the irresponsibility of the government is reaching its limit.”

The current political atmosphere suggests that Mexico will take a sharp turn from Peña Nieto’s neoliberal politics, but in what direction will it be? While the global fad of right-wing populism continues, polls show that Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) and left-wing National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) are virtually tied for the 2018 elections. Margarita Zavala, who could be Mexico’s first woman president, occupies the frontrunner position for the PAN, while Andrés Manuel López Obrador leads MORENA unopposed.

Mexico faces unprecedented challenges in 2017, and the burden falls on the backs of the people. But they are taking matters into their own hands. Embedded in these protests is a firm belief in the results of direct action, and with officials taking a substantive stand against Peña Nieto’s gas price increase, the demonstrations seem to be paying off slowly Will they translate to a watershed 2018 election? Certainly. But whether Mexico takes a sharp turn leftward or rightward remains to be seen.

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