By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Truck drivers are causing havoc and chaos in twenty Brazilian states as they block highways for the fourth day in a row, protesting the increase in diesel fuel prices. Some cities around the country are reporting a shortage of fuel at gas stations, fruits and vegetables at supermarkets and the reduction in the number of busses circulating.
“I went to two gas stations yesterday before finding one that had fuel,” said Eder Silva, resident of São Paulo. “My wife and kid are in Rio and I don’t know if they will be able to get home on Friday because of the shortage of fuel.”
Since Monday thousands of independent truck drivers have blocked the country’s major highways allowing only passenger automobiles and busses to pass. On Wednesday night, with the increasing tension, organizers of the protest stated they would allow trucks carrying live animals, pharmaceutical products and oxygen to hospitals to pass through.
The hundreds of trucks parked alongside the highways not allowing others trucks through has led to a shortage of fuel and food in several states. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Fuel Retailers Union (Sindcomb), at least half of the gas stations in the city today will end their supply of gasoline, diesel and ethanol on Thursday.
Vegetables and fruits prices at the State of Rio de Janeiro’s Ceasa Distribution Centers, surged, as the volume of products available decreased. The 50kg bag of potatoes, which last week sold for R$64 on Wednesday was R$300, up by 369 percent.
Unable to obtain fuel supply for city busses, officials in Latin America’s largest city, São Paulo, announced bus fleets would be reduced by forty percent on Thursday, since fuel tankers are unable to reach the city’s bus depot to deliver diesel and gasoline. More than fifteen city and inter-city bus companies are being affected.
“The São Paulo City Government informs that São Paulo Transport (SPTrans) has authorized bus companies to reduce the fleet in operation by up to 40 percent in the off-peak hours. The measure is necessary to ensure that the fleet is operational late afternoon and evening,” stated a note issued by the city government early Thursday morning.
As a result of the protest, Petrobras President, Pedro Parente, announced Wednesday night that the oil giant was reducing by ten percent the price of diesel fuel at its refineries for the next fifteen days.
Leaders of the protest, however, said that Petrobras‘ announcement will not solve the problem and that the disruption in major highways will continue. “If nothing (new accord) happens until Friday (May 25th) then everything will stop,” warned Jose da Fonseca Lopes, president of Brazilian Truck Drivers Association (ABCAM), whose organization has more than 500,000 registered members.
Protesters want the government to do away with two fuel tariffs for the sector. Government officials say that under the fiscal responsibility law when terminating a tariff the Administration must first find another source for the resource it will not obtain through the tax.