Truckers clear some roads in Brazil, but protests continue

By Marcelo Teixeira
A truck carrying army officials passes by people supporting the truck owners striking in protest against high diesel prices in Luziania, Brazil May 27, 2018. The sign reads "We are all truckers". REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Marcelo Teixeira

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Despite a reduction of road blockades, most Brazilian truckers protesting high diesel prices have not gone back to work and Latin America's largest economy is poised to enter an eighth day of protests on Monday with near-zero road cargo transportation.

Hospitals are reporting shortages of some basic products, while many farm animals are dying or being culled because of a lack of feed. In addition, major cities such as Rio de Janeiro have sharply reduced public transportation, and schools and universities said they would not open on Monday because of transportation hurdles.

With gas stations low on fuel across most of the country, police and the army have been escorting fuel convoys to supply ambulances, police vehicles and buses for public transportation in most large cities in Brazil.

President Michel Temer met with government ministers and with some state-level officials on Sunday in Brasília to discuss proposals to resolve the trucking strike.

The proposals include a 10 percent discount on diesel prices for at least 60 days that would be footed by the government through a compensation to state-run oil company Petrobras.

Truck owners also want toll operators not to charge rear axles that are not in use, such as when trucks pass by the tolls unloaded.

Later on Sunday, Sao Paulo Governor Marcio França, who has been acting as a negotiator, said the federal government would not accept the demand to keep diesel prices discounted for 60 days, only for 30 days as previously announced. The toll demand would be accepted.

França said some groups organizing the truckers said that the protests were likely to go on as a result of Sunday's talks.

Local media reported that fuel was starting to reach gas stations in some major cities in the country, but in cities like Sao Paulo, the few gas stations opened were only serving emergency services vehicles.

The military said that the entrances to some ports, such as Santos, Latin America's largest export hub, were cleared, but there were still no trucks arriving by late Sunday to the area to replenish silos and allow for ship-loading operations.

Brazil is a global leader in commodities exports and industry groups said they expected delays in shipments from everything from soybeans to meats and sugar.

Oil workers, who say they support the protests and oppose Petrobras pricing policy that closely tracks international oil market, announced a strike at refineries starting on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)