Brazil in transport hell amid 9-day strike

People lining up for fuel at a petrol station in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, the eighth day of a strike to protest against rising fuel costs in Brazil.
People lining up for fuel at a petrol station in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, the eighth day of a strike to protest against rising fuel costs in Brazil.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

President caves in to pressure and cuts price of diesel but some truckers standing firm

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazil remained in a transport stranglehold yesterday despite the President's pledge that a nine-day strike will end soon.

President Michel Temer caved in to intense pressure from strikers on Sunday, and cut the price of diesel fuel. The truck strike has been crippling fuel, food and other freight across the continent-sized industrial and agricultural powerhouse.

Mr Temer said he had "absolute conviction" the crisis would finally end. But despite his confidence, significant numbers of truck drivers stood firm, with some even calling for the government to step down.

On Monday, there was renewed disruption. A key Temer minister said some unidentified groups were "infiltrating the movement with different, essentially political goals".

The federal highway police said more than 550 road blockages by truckers were mounted across 24 of the country's 27 states.

Shortages of aviation fuel shuttered eight airports. Traffic to the huge Santos seaport near Sao Paulo shrank to a trickle.

Though there has been some improvement since the army was told to intervene last Friday, with armed soldiers escorting fuel trucks on priority routes, huge lines of cars were still forming at petrol stations.

Many supermarkets struggled to source fresh food, while some producers threw out thousands of litres of spoiled milk.

Hospitals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo cancelled non-urgent surgeries and at least 13 states scrapped university classes.

Adding to the disruption in Rio, the key BRT commuter system operated at only 22 per cent capacity, while in Sao Paulo the bus system ran at 70 per cent capacity.

The truckers are angry over the rise in diesel costs from 3.36 reais (S$1.25) a litre in January to 3.6 reais before the strike. On May 26, it hit 3.8 reais per litre.

After urgent talks with representatives of the truckers, Mr Temer agreed to cut the diesel price by 0.46 reais a litre for 60 days. That concession hammered the value in state-controlled oil major Petrobras, one of Brazil's most dominant companies, which is due to face a strike by its own workers today.

There were some signs that the worst of the strike may be easing. City Hall in Rio yesterday said there would be enough diesel for the 100 per cent return of the municipal bus fleet and the BRT system.

But a complete resolution of the crisis appeared some way off, with unions split on whether to stand down and some activists taking a more militant line.

Brazil is already suffering from the aftermath of a deep recession and political instability ahead of a general election in October.

A poll by Ideia BigData found that 95 per cent of Brazilians disapproved of Mr Temer's handling of the situation, even if 55 per cent opposed the strike itself.

His centre-right government has launched sweeping reforms that have been praised by investors, but proved unpopular with ordinary Brazilians.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'Brazil in transport hell amid 9-day strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe