Brazil Paralysed by Striking Truck Drivers

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Since 21st May, truck drivers across Brazil have been striking against recent increases in diesel prices, bringing the majority of the country to a halt.

The consistent increases in the price of fuel has united not only truck drivers, but rural farmers and industries, the middle class, the left and the right. According to a poll conducted by the Methodus Institute, the strike has the support of over 80% of the country.

In a country with barely any rail transport, truck drivers are an essential, if often ignored, it will be a cog in the economy. The vast majority are self-employed, so it’s been two decades since they last went on strike. This year’s strikes have been organised and coordinated through WhatsApp, meaning that it has a horizontal and decentralised structure. It is estimated that they have blocked over 550 roads and motorways in Brazil.

As the strike reaches one week, supermarkets are running out of food, petrol stations have no petrol, airports are closing because they don’t have enough fuel for flights, and hospitals don’t have all the medicines they need.

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This has placed the government in a difficult position only four months until the next presidential election. On Friday, they bowed to pressure and negotiated with the eleven unions that represent the strikers. The government offered to remove a tax on diesel, to not increase prices for 30 days, and every 30 days explain any increases in prices. While nine unions signed the agreement, the two largest did not, and the strike didn’t come to an end.

The President, Michel Temer, made a speech late on Friday stating that the Armed Forces had been given permission to remove all blockades from the roads, to ensure the safety of the general population. The next day, it was announced that the companies who employ the truck drivers will be fined R$100,000 (£20,000) per hour which the drivers don’t work. The police also have arrest warrants for company owners, who are accused of participating in a lock out, where they don’t allow their employees to work.

On Sunday, Brazil’s government adopted a new policy in an attempt to defuse the growing crisis caused by the strikes and blockades. Mr Temer announced an enforced cut in diesel prices by 0.46 reais (equivalent to c.£0.09) per litre for 60 days. With the government making up the cost difference to the previous price, the measure is effectively a temporary government fuel subsidy.

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In 2016, Petrobras, the Brazilian state oil company that is also heavily implicated in the Operation Car Wash corruption investigation, started a new pro-market policy. Previously the company subsidised fuel, but they decided to link prices instead to the international market, resulting in prices rising.

As Petrobras is the only oil company in Brazil, they can decide the price of fuels, so this may not be the last protest on this issue.

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Spanish, Portuguese and European Studies student, on her year abroad in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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