Truckers who support Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro escalated their protests on Monday, blocking roads in 20 states in an action that could affect agricultural exports in one of the world’s top food producers and cause wider economic chaos.
Bolsonaro lost Sunday’s election to leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but has yet to concede defeat. He will not publicly address his defeat until Tuesday, a cabinet minister said on Monday evening, amid doubts over whether the far-right nationalist will accept Lula’s victory.
Video footage showed some truckers at roadblocks calling for a military coup to prevent Lula becoming president, as protests spread from Mato Grosso and Santa Catarina to Parana, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goias and Bahia.
In Brasilia, police shut off traffic access to the central government esplanade on a tip that Bolsonaro supporters were planning to occupy the square in front of the Supreme Court, which they consider has acted to favor Lula.
Brazil’s federal highway police said 236 protests had partially or fully blocked roads in 20 states. Truckers – who have benefited from Bolsonaro policies such as lowering diesel costs – are one of the president’s key constituencies, and they have been known to disrupt Brazil’s economy when they shut down highways.
The highest number of blockades was in Santa Catarina, a state where Bolsonaro has a massive support base, and Mato Grosso do Sul, an important grains-growing and cattle state, according to the highway police national branch.
Santos port, from where much of Brazil’s grains are exported, told Reuters earlier on Monday that the protests had not yet affected cargo movement. Paranagua’s port authority said one of the main roads giving access to its port was being blocked by protesters, but that there was no immediate disruption to cargo movement.
However, Normando Corral, president of farm group Famato, said the roadblocks in Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest farm state, could disrupt agricultural shipments if they persist.
One of the state’s main exports this time of year is Brazil’s winter corn crop, which is planted after soybeans are harvested.
“It’s too soon to say if it’s going to interfere with the flow of production, because the blockades started yesterday,” Corral said. “I don’t know how long it will last.”
Rota do Oeste, a toll road operator that administers an 850-km (530-mile) stretch of the BR 163 highway that cuts through Mato Grosso said at around 2.30pm local time there were blockages in the regions of Nova Mutum, Sorriso, Sinop, Lucas do Rio Verde and Rondonopolis.
Evandro Lermen, a member of grain cooperative Coacen in the Brazilian ‘soy capital’ Sorriso, told Reuters corn shipments were not being disrupted by the protests.
He said trucks had not been not loaded with corn over the weekend because of a Nov. 2 national holiday.
“We are not worried,” he said, adding that shipping schedules showed no delays.
Rumo, a leading rail company that operates Latin America’s biggest grain terminal in Rondonopolis, said earlier Monday that none of its operations in Brazil had been affected so far.
Communications Minister Fabio Faria told Reuters Bolsonaro was working with his solicitor general to determine measures to clear the highways.
Lula’s win represented a stunning comeback for the 77-year-old former metalworker, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010 but then spent time in prison for corruption convictions that were later annulled.
Bolsonaro spent Monday at the presidential palace without appearing in public. Prior to the vote he repeatedly made baseless claims the electoral system was open to fraud.
His eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, tweeted thanks to his father’s supporters, and said: “Let’s raise our heads and not give up on our Brazil! God is in charge!”
Lula has vowed to overturn many of Bolsonaro’s policies, including pro-gun measures and weak protection of the Amazon rainforest.
(Reporting by Ana Mano, Roberto Samora, Alberto Alerigi and André Romani; Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O’Brien)