There are two bars of fuel in my tank. That’s approximately 10 liters and when that’s gone there might be no more. Our town is running dry.
We were lucky enough that the propane tank on our stove ran out on Friday. Inconvenient, it meant that we had a take-out lunch rather than a home-cooked one (truth be told, this Momma wasn’t too disappointed at not having to cook, but it was a hit to this week’s spending cash in addition to the cost of the tank). We bought a new tank for the normal R$65; now they are selling for R$85. Over 20% more. What was a momentary inconvenience in retrospect was us dodging a financial bullet.
Brazil is dependent on its roads
What’s going on? The Brazilian truck drivers are on strike. They’ve blocked the roads to all large vehicles. They are allowing small vehicles and emergency supplies through, but no gas. No deliveries of any sort.
The nation has ground to a standstill. Flights are grounded due to lack of fuel. Gasoline in the cities is up to R$9,99/liter (it’s a R$5-$7 in our area).
Brazil is extremely dependent on its ground transportation. 70% of Brazil’s commerce is shipped by truck. There is no rail or plane infrastructure. Brazil is the nation most dependent on ground transportation in the world.
In these days of small stocks and quick deliveries, that means that most businesses only maintain enough in-store stock for 5 days. We’re at day 8 of the strike. Most states are in a state of emergency.
The plight of the drivers
Why are they striking? The cost of diesel went up yet again. It has gone up 50% over the past year. The government is largely responsible for that, taking a hefty cut in taxes. 55% of the cost of diesel at the pump is due to regulations and/or taxes imposed. The truck drivers say they are paying more in taxes than they’re even getting in profit.
They were struggling even before this. The government has moved to privatize a lot of its major highways–seeing as how they’re doing a lousy job maintaining them they think that private industry might do better–which means higher tolls for the truck drivers. Even if they’re on a return-trip with no load. Mr. Crônicas was having a hard time getting plaster delivered to his hardware store because no one wants to drive to our rural area. There’s nothing to ship back to the big city, and there’s not enough money in it for the truck drivers to do a one-way trip. We have a friend who’s a truck driver and he stopped doing long hauls altogether because it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
How are people taking it?
Despite constant propaganda from Rede Globo, the dominant television channel in Brazil, people don’t blame the truck drivers for shortages of medicine or supplies. The hospitals didn’t have those things before, they tell me.
People around here are generally supportive of the strikers, despite the inconvenience. The memes—Brazilian’s favorite way to process politics—are flying fast and funny. The What’sApp on my phone has been buzzing with jokes in every group I belong to. Everything I’ve seen is in support of the truck drivers and mocking extreme lengths that someone might go to get fuel. Quite a few of them are pointing at all the money that the politicians are known to be draining from the public coffers. Dig into your own pockets, you greedy bastards, the public is saying.
Funny, because they were more indifferent to the striking teachers a month ago. There’s a few memes noting that as well. Education wasn’t worth getting upset about they say, but mess with a Brazilian’s car? Well, that’s a crisis.
Did they reach a solution?
The government has offered the strikers a proposed reduction in the taxes for 15 days. Which is just laughable. That’s barely one long-distance haul for a truck driver. End of last week they upped it to 30 days. This Sunday evening they upped it once again to 60 days, and a reduction in the pricey tolls. As of this morning, it seems the drivers have accepted, but it will take at least another week or two for gas stations to restock and social services to return to normal functioning. Public schools are still closed. The major metropolitan bus fleets are still all circulating at half-strength. The airports still don’t have fuel.
In a relief effort on Sunday, the government sent out troops to escort a few tankers from the refineries to the airports to get a few grounded airplanes back on their way.
Also in a new turn of events on Sunday, the refinery workers have now threatened a strike. So you can send the military to escort the tanker trucks, but what happens if the refinery workers refuse to fill them?
And even though President Temer has accepted the driver’s demands and an agreement will be published in the national paper, the protests continue across the country. Uber drivers also joined the strike, and in a few cases they blocked tanker trucks from leaving refineries.
Well, that’s a fine pickle.
Where will it stop? Who knows.
Our Juggling Act
For now, we’re economizing. We skipped a family birthday party because it was way off in the farms on the other side of town where Mr. Crônicas grew up. Too far. We’ll also walk the muddy 1km up to the top of our farm through the cow pasture instead of hopping in the SUV for now. Those two bars in my car will take me to the end of the week, perhaps into the next. Thank goodness Thursday is a holiday. We’re talking of siphoning gas from Mr. Crônica’s old clunker and putting it into mine which gets better mileage. These are the jugglings that you do in a third world country.
When I traveled home to the USA I was agog and delighted by two-day shipping. I mean, I know it existed, I had even used it for a while before I left. But after 6 years with Brazilian shipping, I was a kid in a candy store. I tried to explain my glee to friends. They looked at me like I had gone mad. It was like being giddy at the blueness of the sky. You have no idea. I said. And they don’t.
Similarly, our local bank just opened again this past Monday. After 14 months of being closed due to a gang robbery. Fourteen months of juggling paycheck deposits (thank GOD we have a bank account with the store at another that allows us to cash checks, otherwise I’d be traveling 45 minutes every month to get my paycheck. That’s what Mr. Crônica’s parents do to get their Social Security payments.) I deposited two checks at the ATM on Monday and gave an almost audible sigh of relief at the convenience of it all. It felt so good. I imagine it will feel similarly good to fill my tank after all this.
It takes a certain amount of brain power to keep such logistical calculations running in the back of your mind. Those of us who have known a life that is different find it annoying. Most Brazilians that have lived in the USA and are back in our small town also complain. They know it could be better, so much better. Even Brazilians know it’s ridiculous, but those of us who have lived with the contrast tend to go stark-raving mad with frustration.
For now, I am counting our blessings. We have the money to pay the exorbitant crisis prices. We have gas in our tanks and in our stove. We have savings if we can’t make it to work for a while. We’ll make it.
The question is, will Brazil?