Brazil: protesters target oil auction, transit fare

Hundreds of Brazilian unionists, teachers, students and leftists held a militant demonstration outside the Windsor Hotel in Rio Janeiro's Barra da Tijuca neighborhood on Oct. 21 to protest an auction being held there for rights to develop the Libra oilfield in the Bay of Santos. Denouncing the auction as a partial privatization of the country's largest source of petroleum, the demonstrators attempted to invade the hotel, confronting some 1,100 soldiers backed by agents of the National Security Force, and the federal, civil and militarized police. Protesters, some of them masked Black Bloc activists, fought with the agents, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least six people were injured, and a vehicle belonging to the Rede Record television network was set on fire.

Later that day, the Black Bloc held a second demonstration on the Rio Branco avenue. The slogan for the action, "A million against the auction and oppression and for education," linked opposition to the auction with support for local teachers striking for better pay and working conditions. Another protest, held the same day in São Paulo, resulted in at least three arrests and attacks on two journalists.

The auction itself proceeded without problems. It ended in just 50 minutes, with the development rights going to a consortium of five companies. Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.), will have a 40% share in the field's exploitation, followed by Shell Brasil, a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Shell company, with 20%; France's Total, with 20%; and two Chinese companies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC Limited) and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), with 10% each. The only bid came from this consortium; despite concerns that industrial spying by the US might affect the auction, no US company bid for the Libra field.

The Brazilian government was "extremely pleased," with the results, President Dilma Rousseff announced in a brief televised address. "The process initiated today will bring enormous resource to bear for the Brazilian people," Rousseff said. "Education will gain a windfall." She denied that privatization was involved in the auction, which brought the government $7 billion immediately and the potential for large royalties in the future. Libra is expected to produce 1.4 millions barrels a day; Brazil's total production currently is 2.1 million barrels a day. (Adital, Brazil, Oct. 21; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 22, from AFP, DPA, Reuters; Dow Jones, Oct. 22)

Opposition to the auction was an issue in a weeklong strike that the Only Federation of Oil Workers (FUP), which includes 14 unions, started against Petrobras on Oct. 17. The union was also demanding a 5% increase in real wages, along with better working conditions, guarantees for contract workers, help with drug prescriptions, and other benefits. The unions claimed 90% adherence to the strike. The job action was suspended on Oct. 23, two days after the auction was completed, with the workers winning an 8.56% wage increase—presumably in nominal wages—along with other benefits. The FUP leadership said local assemblies had approved the suspension. (Adital, Oct. 23; TeleSUR, Oct. 24)

A three-hour march held in São Paulo on Oct. 25 to demand free public transit turned violent when a group of protesters split off and attacked a bus terminal. Masked protesters, some of them reportedly Black Bloc activists, set a bus on fire and vandalized cash and ticket machines. About 60 people were arrested, according to the local press. The march was called by the Free Pass Movement (MPL), a group whose protests against high transit costs helped spark massive nationwide demonstrations in June. Also on Oct. 25, President Rousseff announced a $2.4 billion program for improving the São Paulo's public transit. (BBC News, Oct. 25; La Tercera, Chile, Oct. 25, from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 27.