Picture this: the streets that are usually bustling with life are completely empty, supermarket shelves – usually so full that products are ready to fall – have very few items left, many state universities – usually filled with students – have cancelled classes, most buses aren’t circulating, and the few that are take hours to get to a stop. While this might sound like a description of a ghost town or a post-apocalyptic scenario, it is instead the reality of what São Paulo, South America’s biggest city, looked like on Monday morning – the eighth day of a trucker strike.
Starting last Monday, the 21st of May, 2018, Brazilian truckers have been striking over the raises in the cost of gasoline in the country.
Since Mrs. Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, Michel Temer has taken over the presidency. Over the past two years he’s been implementing a series of legislations that attempt to fix federal budget and bring Brazil out of the shadows of the country’s biggest recession. Amongst these measures, Temer’s administration decided that it would no longer control the oil prices, leaving it to the country’s biggest oil company, Petrobras. The idea worked well for a while. The company recovered relatively fast and grew a little. However, when oil prices started going up and the country’s currency, the Real, devalued in the international market, things started to take a turn for the worse.
Before Temer’s legislation, the state set a ceiling for gasoline prices in the country, paying for the difference between market price and consumer price. This way, gasoline prices were never higher than a set value (depending on inflation and other economic factors). However, since the measure’s passing, this ceiling does not exist anymore, making gasoline prices higher than they have ever been and rising practically every day. The week before the strike, prices went up to 3.6 reais per litre, having increased five times during the short period.
As a result of this situation, truckers, who spend most of their time driving, and, therefore, have a job that depends on these prices, decided to strike, asking the government to go back to its original ways. In an attempt to bring attention to their cause, they have blocked many of the country’s most important roads, creating barricades with burning tires, leaving one free lane for some cars and emergency vehicles to pass by.
While in some places blocked roads simply sound like an inconvenience that would only cause traffic, still allowing for activities to continue in a relatively normal fashion, in a country like Brazil it is a major way to paralyze all activities. This is due to the fact that back in the 1930s, while looking for a fast way to modernize the country, the government opted for operating the majority of its transportations through roads instead of through railways, waterways or airways. Since this has never been changed, most of the country’s deliveries – including food, gasoline, gas and many other commodities – are made by trucks. With the roads closed, there is no way to supply cities like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, leading to scenarios like the one currently taking place. The country’s largest city
declared a state of emergency on Friday morning and has been completely out of gas since Saturday.
Trying to stop the strikes, which have been taking place all over the country, president Temer decreed on Saturday night that the armed forces have permission to act in defense of law and order nation-wide. The government has also been allowed by the Judiciary to remove any strikers who have been blocking roads or protesting on road-side. Along with that, on a speech on Sunday night, President Temer announced measurements he would take to satisfy truckers, the main one being that oil prices would be fixed for the next two months, only being adjusted once a month after that. Gasoline prices are being fixed at R$ 1,9526 and diesel prices are being fixed at R$ 2,1016 (this one for at least 15 days).
However, even with Sunday night’s proposition, strikes still haven’t come to an end in all places. The subway is running for an extended time period, trying to help with the transportation for the many who are left with no gas. Also, the CET (Company of Traffic Engineering), has decided to suspend the measure known as “rodízio”, which consists of stopping cars with plates that end in certain numbers from being used on certain days of the week, at least up until Friday, June 1st.
So far, gasoline is slowly being brought into certain gas stations scattered around São Paulo through trucks that pass through freed roads. The lines for these stations are going around blocks.
Regarding food distribution, supermarkets are slowly starting to be re-stocked. Some chains, such as Pão de Açúcar, have their own private trucks and are therefore being stocked faster. It still is hard to find produce in most areas, and for the ones that can be found, prices are high.
It seems like things should be back to normal by the end of the week, however, strikes can be hard to predict, and so people are preparing for another week of it.
Photo credit:O Globo