Brazil: the pandemic, the risk of shortages and the Fora Bolsonaro movement

The coronavirus crisis has already begun to cause bottlenecks in cargo transport in Brazil, demonstrating the weaknesses of our system due to the monopoly of the road sector for general cargo transportation. With the aggravation of the Covid-19 pandemic more restrictive measures may be adopted, which will prevent the delivery of cargo of all products that are consumed internally in the country, especially food.

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The situation and the imminence of a supply crisis led the Ministry of Infrastructure to hold a meeting with representatives from all states last Friday night (27/3), to discuss the situation and ensure the free movement of goods. Among other measures adopted by the federal government and highway concessionaires, they announced the suspension of truck weighing for 90 days. The 90-day toll exemption was ruled out. Companies that operate in the sector predict that there will be a drop in the movement of cargo, jeopardising the domestic market supply.

Besides, the overloaded and precarious motorways do not have support networks for lorry drivers. Although they are not suffering traffic restrictions yet, they are finding it very difficult to continue working, as they can’t find places to get some food or have a meal.

We can observe an excessive concentration of the road modal in the movement of loads, which also causes an impact on the energy network, adding costs to the production and distribution chains. This concentration increased after 1996, with the process of privatisation of the country's railway network.

The Federal Railway Network (RFFSA), for example, was included in the National Denationalisation Programme (PND) by Decree No. 473/93 of March 10, 1993.

Over the last 24 years of privatised services the share of the rail modal in the transport network has fallen from 20 to 18 percent. If the transport of mineral products is not taken into account, we can see that the share of the modal is around 7 percent. This means that in the transportation of general loads in the domestic market, including the transport of industrialised products and inputs, railways account for only 7 percent (and that’s to meet export corridors), against 91 percent of the road modal.

Despite all the improvements made and sponsored by all governments since Fernando Henrique Cardoso, through Lula, Dilma, Temer and Bolsonaro, the privatised railroads have failed to meet the goals established in the concession contracts. They haven’t made the necessary investments; the number of accidents has not fallen; transport capacity hasn’t increased; they’ve failed to change the business focus which prioritises the demand of the export corridors, which focuses on the long-distance transportation of low-value-added loads.

bolsonaro Image Antonio Cruz Agência Brasil The Bolsonaro administration protects the capitalist and corporate interests / Image: Antonio Cruz Agência Brasil

In order to improve its services, including the recovery of its flow capacity, the rail sector must change its business focus. They have to recover its capacity to transport typical railway loads, which have migrated to the road modal over the years. Typical railway loads are comprised of bulk agricultural products (soybeans, beans, rice, etc.), petroleum products, steel products, and industrialised goods. It’s important to develop the use of containers, and increase mineral products aggregate value.

In a time when the health, economic and political crises in the country are deepening, this discussion is particularly important. On top of the economic impacts generated by the pandemic, the Bolsonaro administration protects the capitalist and corporate interests. The large corporations support his statements, which play down the harmful effects of coronavirus: he urges the population not to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and creates a political crisis in the government itself, which results in the deterioration of the living conditions of the working class.

The pandemic could lead to a supply crisis due to the weaknesses of the transport system in Brazil, and it also shows that one cannot depend solely and exclusively on one mode of transport to promote the internal movement of goods. It is necessary to break with this monopolistic model, which only benefits the major carriers in the country.

In a recent public announcement on 31 March, Bolsonaro urged lorry drivers to bring their activities to a halt because of the quarantine measures. As this sector has the monopoly of general cargo transportation, the large carriers and autonomous drivers who have small fleets, are taking advantage of the possibility of a lockdown in the country.

To break with this model, it is necessary to fight for the implementation of a National Railway Network owned by the public and the state. If that became a reality, the national railway - which operates in the sector of cargo, passengers and urban passengers - would be integrated into a new National Road, Transport and Mobility Plan to regulate, operate and maintain the national transportation network, which should prioritise the rail modal as the main network.

For the creation of a National Railway Network, which would be implemented by a new National Transport and Mobility Plan, we believe the railways must be nationalised and placed under a special state administration. It would be responsible for controlling, planning, financing, managing and operating the railway network. It should also implement a rigorous audit of the system so that the Union is reimbursed for the losses caused by private operators.

For this structural change to happen, it is necessary to have a government committed to the interests of the working class and the youth. It is necessary to break this cycle of domination by capital that crushes and destroys us, as Bolsonaro and his supporters have been doing.

Once this period of social isolation is over, we should aim to take thousands of people to the streets to shout Fora Bolsonaro, to make our voices heard and fight for a government of workers without bosses or generals. In the meantime, we must use all available means to explain why we have to build the Popular Committees for the “Bolsonaro Out” movement, and bring together the largest number of workers and young people to this fight.