By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Last Wednesday saw the largest political protest march in the city of Rio since 1992’s rally against controversial President Fernando Collor as thousands of politicians, celebrities and citizens from across the state descended on Avenida Rio Branco.
The source of the collective anguish was the ongoing battle for royalties from the pre-salt oil reserves off the coast that would potentially see the state’s coffers swell by an estimated R$7 billion per year.
If the Ibsen amendment is not overturned, the state will fall far behind in the list of states receiving funds, jeopardizing several projects in advance of the 2016 Olympics that relied on the money to go ahead, both environmental and infrastructural.
There was a party mood in the streets of downtown as mayor Eduardo Paes and governor Sergio Cabral linked arms with Espirito do Santo governor Paulo Hartung to lead the demonstrations that began mid-afternoon in pouring rain, and estimates at the numbers on the streets run at anywhere between 100,000-150,000, a number reduced from even more by the inclement weather.
Those that did turn out were not to be put off by a little water though, and had some additional material to shout about. Chanting “I am Rio, even in the rain” and waving banners proclaiming “In Defence Of Rio” and “Against Cowardice” the mood was light, but nevertheless defiant.
Historically the law regarding royalties protected the state of production at a time when Sao Paulo had the majority of refineries and therefore benefited from the more lucrative point of sale without having to foot the bills for drilling and extraction. The new law will hit not just Rio but also Espirito do Santo which also has the Campos Basin oil field on its coastline.
Chaos reigned throughout the afternoon rush hour and well into the night as Avenida Rio Branco was effectively shut off by protesters, the march coming to a halt in Cinelandia where a stage had been erected for bands and celebrities to voice their support for Cabral and Paes’ cause.
The singer Toni Garrido kicked things off at 7PM as the crowd swelled with office workers finishing for the day, and was treated to performances by funk legend MC Sapao and Neguinho from the Beija Flor samba school.
Traffic coming into the city on the Rio-Niteroi bridge came to a standstill and there were 11KM tailbacks along the BR-101 highway but the crowds were not to be moved. “The people must unite to stop these resources being stolen,” shouted one protester, “Justice for the producers!”