Brazil, nine days into grinding strike, still a transport hell

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Truckers prepare a barbecue as they block the Imigrantes highway SP-160 during a protest against high diesel fuel prices in Sao Paulo, Brazil May 24, 2018.

RIO de JANEIRO – South America&39;s economic giant, Brazil, remained almost in a transport stranglehold on Tuesday despite a pledge from the president that a nine-day strike will end soon.

Late Sunday, the deeply unpopular President Michel Temer caved in to intense pressure from strikers, 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.

Temer said he had "absolute conviction that between today and tomorrow" the crisis, would finally end. In a tweet, Temer gave a slightly longer horizon of "one to two days."

Despite the president&39;s confidence, significant numbers of truck drivers stood firm and some appeared to be radicalized, calling for the government to step down. A key Temer minister, Eliseu Padilha, spoke of unidentified groups "infiltrating the movement with different, essentially political goals."

 

 

Late Sunday, Temer gave in to their main demand for lower diesel costs, but Monday saw renewed disruption. Brazil is already suffering from the aftermath of a deep recession and political instability ahead of October general elections.

More than 550 road blockages by truckers were mounted across 24 of the country&39;s 27 states, the federal highway police said. Shortages of aviation fuel shuttered eight airports. Traffic to the huge Santos seaport near Sao Paulo, which usually receives 10,000 trucks a day, shrank to a trickle.

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

Many supermarkets around the country struggled to source fresh food. Producers reported having to slaughter stocks of chickens because they had no access to the feed, while others threw out thousands of liters of spoiled milk.

READ: Brazil close to paralysis as truckers press on with strike

Hospitals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo had to cancel non-urgent surgeries and at least 13 states reported scrapping university classes. Adding to the disruption in Rio, the key BRT commuter system operated at only 22 percent capacity, while in Sao Paulo the bus system ran at 70 percent capacity.

The truckers are angry over the rise in diesel costs from 3, 36 reais (92 US cents) a liter in January to 3.6 reais before the strike. On May 26, it hit 3.8 reais per liter. After urgent negotiations with representatives of the truckers, Temer agreed to cut the diesel price by 0.46 reais a liter for 60 days.

 

 

That concession hammered the value in state-controlled oil major Petrobras, one of Brazil&39;s most dominant companies, which is due to face a strike by its own workers on Wednesday.

Shares dropped 14 percent Monday and another 14 percent last Thursday, while the Ibovespa index in Sao Paulo closed 4.5 percent lower.

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