São Paulo (Reuters) – Truck drivers who support outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ramped up protests on Monday, blocking roads across the country in measures that could affect exports at one of the world’s biggest food producers and cause wider economic chaos.
Bolsonaro lost Sunday’s election to former leftist president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, but he has yet to concede defeat. On Monday evening, a cabinet minister said he would not speak publicly about his defeat until Tuesday, amid doubts over whether the far-right nationalist would accept Lula’s victory.
Video footage showed some truck drivers at roadblocks calling for a military coup to prevent Lula from taking over the presidency, with protests spreading from Mato Grosso and Santa Catarina to Parana, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goias and Bahia.
In Brasilia, the police closed off traffic access to the central government plaza based on a tip that Bolsonaro supporters were planning to occupy the plaza in front of the Supreme Court, which they consider to have acted in Lula’s favour.
The Brazilian Federal Highway Police said 321 protests partially or completely closed roads in 26 states. Truck drivers – who have benefited from Bolsonaro’s policies such as cutting diesel costs – are one of the president’s main constituencies, and have been known to disrupt Brazil’s economy when they shut down highways.
The largest number of blockades were in Santa Catarina, a state where Bolsonaro has a huge support base, and Mato Grosso do Sul, an important state for growing grain and livestock, according to the National Branch of the Highway Police.
The port of Santos, where much of the Brazilian grain is exported, told Reuters earlier on Monday that the protests had not yet affected the movement of shipments. The Paranagua Port Authority said protesters blocked one of the main roads to its port, but there was no immediate disruption to the movement of goods.
However, Normando Coral, president of the agricultural group Famato, said roadblocks in Mato Grosso, Brazil’s largest agricultural state, could disrupt agricultural shipments if they continued.
One of the state’s major exports at this time of year is Brazil’s winter corn crop, which is grown after soybeans are harvested.
“It’s too early to say if it will interfere with the flow of production, because the blockade started yesterday,” Coral said. “I don’t know how long that will last.”
At about 2.30 p.m. local time, Rota do Oeste, a toll-road operator on the 850-kilometre (530 miles) stretch of the BR 163 motorway that runs through Mato Grosso, said there were blockages in the Nova Motom, Sorriso and Sinop regions. . Lucas de Rio Verde and Rondonópolis.
Evandro Lermin, a member of the Coacen grain cooperative in the Brazilian soy capital city of Sorriso, told Reuters that corn shipments were not disrupted by the protests.
He said the trucks were not loaded with corn over the weekend due to a public holiday on November 2.
“We are not worried,” he said, adding that shipping schedules showed no delays.
Rumo, the leading rail operator that operates Latin America’s largest grain terminal in Rondonópolis, said earlier on Monday that none of its operations in Brazil had so far been affected.
Additional reporting by Ana Mano, Roberto Samora, Alberto Allergie, and Andre Romani; Editing by Brad Hines, Rosalba O’Brien and Lincoln Fest
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