Truckers Shut Down Highways in 15 Brazilian States in Support of President Jair Bolsonaro

Truckers shut down federal highways in 15 Brazilian states, holding protests in support of President Jair Bolsonaro, even as he issued a request asking them to allow traffic to continue, the Associated Press reported.

Federal Highway Police and the Infrastructure Ministry released a joint bulletin saying the truckers were concentrated on highways in over half of Brazil's 27 states, but the demonstrations were no longer blocking all traffic.

Bolsonaro released an audio message asking the truckers to stand down and allow traffic to continue, saying he was concerned blockages could cause shortages and worsen inflation.

Truckers were skeptical of the authenticity of the message, but Bolsonaro's infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, recorded a video message late Wednesday confirming the message was from the president, and asking the truckers to listen.

"We know everyone is concerned with improving the country's situation, everyone is concerned with resolving serious problems, but we can't try to resolve a problem by creating another, particularly hurting the most vulnerable people," Gomes de Freitas said in the video. "That's the president's concern. I ask you all to listen attentively, hear the president's words."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Bolsonaro Trucker Protests
Truck drivers blocked highways across Brazil on Thursday in support of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has sought to fire up his far-right base as he fights sinking poll numbers and a supposedly hostile political establishment. Above, police vehicles near truck drivers blocking the Regis Bittencourt road south of Sao Paulo, Brazil, during a demonstration in support of Bolsonaro on September 9, 2021. Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images

Bolsonaro rallied supporters on Tuesday to coincide with Independence Day and show strength as his approval ratings slide and he feuds with the Supreme Court. Truckers turned out in force, even parking on the capital's central mall. They remain mobilized two days later, raising concern that Bolsonaro may have lost control of his supporters after firing them up with incendiary rhetoric.

Federal police across the country were rushing to free up blockades on Thursday, but there were reports of persisting traffic jams caused by truck drivers in several states.

In the state of Bahia, protesters used large wheels to blockade the entrance to the municipality of Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, only letting cars in. In Rio de Janeiro, trucks occupied two of the three lanes on a major highway, causing long traffic jams coming out of the city.

In Santa Catarina, demonstrators mounted at least three blockades on state and federal highways, causing bottlenecks. Local media reported that several gas stations were running out of gas, others had drivers facing long lines to fill up.

Some Bolsonaro supporters were ignoring the call to stand down. Marcos Gomes, a truck driver who has become a social media star among the president's backers, posted calls on the Telegram messaging app Thursday for people to join the protests. "We're going to keep the lanes 100 percent closed," he said.

An 11-day truckers' strike in 2018 caused food prices to spike, grocery market shelves to empty of some products and gas stations to run out of fuel. It caused billions in losses and revealed the vast power that organized truckers possess.

Bolsonaro, at that time a lawmaker and months away from winning the presidential election, was an outspoken supporter of the truckers, and they became a constituency of his.

But he is now president and inflation that has already surged to near double digits is a key contributor to his falling approval ratings. Early polls show him losing his reelection bid next year.

Truckers Support Bolsonaro
Truck drivers supporting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wave flags as they gather at a gas station just south of Brasilia, Brazil, on September 9, 2021. Eraldo Peres/AP Photo