Protesting truck drivers have brought much of Latin America's biggest economy to its knees in objection to rising fuel costs. The government has authorized the army to clear Brazil's major roads.
Brazil's President Michel Temer on Friday authorized the army to move thousands of trucks that have been blocking the country's major roads for five consecutive days, leading to chaos.
Gas stations across the country ran out of fuel because of the blockades. The airport in the capital Brasilia canceled 30 flights on Friday. Sao Paulo, the region's biggest business hub, declared a state of emergency due to scarce fuel supplies. Consumers hit supermarkets in a panic in several areas, emptying shelves. Prices for fruit and vegetables doubled in other areas due to supply issues.
Negotiators for several trucker groups had agreed on Thursday to suspend their blockages after the government vowed to subsidize and stabilize diesel prices, which increased by 9 percent in May. But one of the groups, which says it represents about 600,000 truck drivers, did not sign the agreement.
"We accepted the 12 main demands of the truckers, who agreed to immediately end the blockades," said President Michel Temer in a televised address on Friday. "Unfortunately, a radical minority continues to block the roads."
The leaders of the main trucker unions slammed "the government's decision to use the army as an instrument of repression" and "try to use gasoline to put out a fire." But the Abcam union voiced its "concern for the safety of the drivers," and called on its members to end the blockades.
By Friday afternoon there was no sign of the striking truckers letting up. And the knock-on effects continued: More than 150 poultry and pork processing plants said they had indefinitely suspended operations, and auto production ground to a halt because factories were unable to receive supplies.
Brazil has more 2.5 million trucks, some 477,000 of which are operated by independent drivers, according to the National Transport Confederation. If the protests continue, experts say the economic consequences could be catastrophic for a country that has struggled to recover from a 2015-16 recession.
kw/bw (AP, dpa, Reuters)