Police break up truck driver strike at key Latin American port (with video)

Brazilian truck drivers began what was planned to be a 24-hour strike just after midnight on Monday at the Port of Santos, affecting access at one of Latin America’s largest ports. 

However, police using smoke bombs broke up the protest around 4 p.m. Monday, and union leader Alexsandro Viviani was arrested for “disobedience,” according to local media reports.

The drivers said they were protesting several developments. Their key demand was a reduction of taxes on diesel and gasoline fuel.

While the truck drivers said they halted shipments by blocking access to the port’s terminals, officials at the Santos Port Authority said no roadblocks were reported, according to Reuters.

The Port of Santos, in southern Brazil along the Atlantic Ocean, is the largest container port in Latin America. It has 32 terminals and 65 berths. The port is about 50 miles from the city of São Paulo.

Officials at Penske Logistics, which has warehousing operations in Brazil, told FreightWaves the protest had “no effect at all” on their logistics or supply chains.

Viviani, the head of the truck drivers union in São Paulo, Brazil, warned that the drivers plan more protests if the Brazilian government does not meet their demands.

“The [protest] is to show that the drivers are united and that, if we are not served, our strike will [continue] indefinitely,” said Viviani, the president of the Union of Autonomous Highway Transporters of Goods of the Baixada Santista and Vale do Ribeira (SINDICAM), on a video posted on Facebook Monday morning.

In 2018, the port processed 133 million tons of cargo and 4.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units, accounting for more than $68 billion worth of cargo that year, according to the port authority.

Santos is the No. 1 export port for Brazilian soy, corn and sugar, among other products. Brazil was the United States’ ninth-largest export market in 2018 and the 17th-largest supplier of imported goods.

The price of diesel and gasoline has been an ongoing issue for truck drivers in Brazil, whose national strike in 2018 had an enormous impact on the country’s economy.

Monday’s protest came before Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration sends to Congress a bill aiming to overhaul the value-added tax, a state charge known as ICMS, as recent price cuts at oil refineries by state-run oil firm Petrobras have not reduced costs at fuel pumps across the country.

ICMS is a tax on sales and services and applies to the movement of goods, transportation, communication services and other supplies.

Another source of contention between the government and truck drivers was the creation of a minimum freight rate on all government-associated contracts. Critics say the minimum freight rates are so high that it makes moving goods too expensive for shippers.

Viviani said they were also protesting a new planning and zoning plan at the port, known as PDZ, which aims to alter container and cargo handling areas.

Viviani said the port authority has not discussed the PDZ plan with any unions and could cause mass layoffs.

“This will disturb not only the port, but the entire city of Santos,” he said.

While the protest at the Port of Santos was broken up by authorities, several other truck driving unions continued protests across other parts of Brazil, including the states of São Paulo, Goiás, Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia and Minas Gerais.