Searching for food and arguing over fuel in Brazil's strike

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


In a Brazil where a mammoth truck strike has brought the economy to a standstill, eggs are practically golden and fuel has become something to fight over.

At the Mantiqueira egg wholesaler outside Rio de Janeiro, more than 40 people stood in line for what is usually one of the most easily available foods in Brazil -- and they thought themselves lucky.

The producer hadn't been able to sell eggs for nine days of the truck strike, which shut down distribution routes and fuel supplies around the country.

On Tuesday, with the blockades lifting, three truckloads of eggs arrived.

"It was complicated because everyone is feeling the shortages. The eggs tend to get stolen a lot, but today, thank God we're able to serve people," said Dulce Azevedo, who works for Mantiqueira at Rio's Ceasa wholesale market.

The oval treats came at a cost, though: prices were double the usual and Mantiqueira reported having to slaughter 100,000 of its chickens because of a collapse in the feed supply chain.

In a central Rio supermarket, customers had sticker shock, now that the shelves were starting to fill again.

"It's absurd. It's obvious: they say they had trouble bringing us the products, but I think they're also profiting," complained Maria Jose Fermim, 62.

The truck strike has revealed the government of President Michel Temer to have little power against demonstrators. On Sunday, Temer gave in and agreed to their main demand for lower diesel costs.

It also showed up the fragility of the supply infrastructure in Latin America's biggest economy.

To get things moving again, the government took the extraordinary measure of ordering armed soldiers to escort fuel and food trucks past picket lines.

"If it wasn't for the army, nobody would be able to sell anything. People were afraid of getting a stone thrown at them, or shot at," said trucker Jonas Jose Tomas, 52.

Even so, he supported the truck strike, saying that high fuel prices have made life too hard.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic center and the biggest city in Latin America, it was nearly impossible to fill gas tanks.

At one gas station, police had to intervene to stop fights between motorists after one was accused of trying to jump the line.

Even if the strike was officially ending, the atmosphere was tense.

"There was an enormous line. I've been waiting for three hours. I'm going to fill up any minute now and then wait," said security agent Joao Carlos Coelho, 53.

"There are only a few service stations that are open, so very few have fuel in their tanks, and then there's this chaos you see here."

Maria da Graca, who works as a publisher in Sao Paulo, said Brazilians felt abandoned during the strike.

"As long as there isn't a government that cares for people, instead of looking only after itself, nothing will change," she said.